High school seniors get crash course in DUI in time for prom, graduation


     A 17-year-old Watsonville High School student was unlicensed and under the influence of alcohol and anti-depressants when she made an illegal u-turn on Highway 101 in Prunedale and was hit by an SUV.

     The crash, in February of 2005, also took the lives of four other young people in the car.

     Hers was one of many stories Watsonville Police officers told a group of about 300 Pajaro Valley High School seniors Wednesday during an “Every 15 Minutes” presentation. It’s called that because someone dies in an alcohol related crash every 15 minutes.

     “The No. 1 killer of police officers is traffic collisions,” said Sgt. Michael Ridgway, while explaining the one statistic cops share with young people ages 15-to 20-years-old.

     In 2007, the most recent statistics available, 13,000 people were killed in DUI driving crashes, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration. Thirty-five percent of teen deaths occur in traffic collisions, the government agency reported on its website at www.nhtsa.gov. And alcohol use is one of the contributing factors in those collisions, the agency said. It is illegal for anyone under 21 to drink alcohol.

     Even if there is no collision, just being caught driving drunk is a hassle, Ridgway said, noting that the teens' drivers license will be revoked, huge fines will be due and there is a long precess to getting a license reinstated.

"Many people don't finish the whole process," he said, " and they drive on a suspended license."

     Thus begins a cycle of "chronic misdemeanors," he said.

     Working with members from the Watsonville Fire Department, American Medical Response and the California Highway Patrol, a fictitious fatal DUI crash scene was created in front of the school using wrecked cars from Speed of Light Towing.

     A Toyota minivan sat perched atop a Volkswagen Jetta. Two people were injured in the van, while one body lay in the road beside the VW’s open passenger door. Its driver sat in the car looking dazed and confused. Fake blood was splashed on the vehicles and on the ground.

     In the scenario, the VW’s driver was driving while drunk. Officers, fire and ambulance arrived with sirens blaring and lights flashing.

     The VW’s driver was removed from the vehicle and taken through several tests to determine if he was intoxicated. When he failed, he was handcuffed, put in the back of the CHP car and driven away, to jail.

     “(The presentation) is shocking, because it could be anyone of us,” said Marianela Felix, 18.

     Drama student Alex Murillo, 18, played the role of the deceased person laying next to the VW. He found the event powerful, as well.

     “If that was one of my friends laying there, it wouldn’t feel right,” he said, adding that the presentation made him think twice about driving drunk, getting in the car with someone driving drunk and letting a friend drive drunk. “I definitely would not be the same.”

     For information about Every 15 Minutes, visit www.every15minutes.com.

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