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Whitney students see the horrors of drunk driving

School takes part in Every 15 Minutes driving under the influence program
By: Lauren Weber, The Placer Herald
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Whitney High students received a powerful lesson. They learned the emotional and life-altering consequences of drinking and driving. Every 15 Minutes, a nationwide program that gives students an authentic glimpse into the consequences of driving drunk, without the real-life repercussions, kicked off last Wednesday with a mock crash scene involving five Whitney High School students and two totaled cars. Students gathered in the stadium along Ranch View Drive at the west end of the campus, where the simulated crash began with a screech and a bang – two cars collided on the two-lane street. Thirteen students and one teacher, dressed in all black with painted white faces and hands (known as the living dead), represented the thousands of people killed each year in drunk-driving accidents. Together they lifted the tarp to unveil the crash scene. Senior Johnny Hamner stumbled out of the driver seat of one of the cars to find his best friend, Derek Knutty, sprawled on the hood of the car, ejected through the front windshield. “Oh my God, Oh my God,” Hamner said. “Buddy.” In the other car, only Macy Lefebvre was conscious in the backseat, blood running down her face. Megan Kincaid, the driver, was facedown on the steering wheel and Mai Smith, the front passenger, lay unconscious. Police arrived on site within seconds, pronouncing Knutty dead on the scene. Ambulance, fire and an emergency chopper arrived shortly after. Firefighters took the Jaws of Life to the green Kia, removing the car’s roof in order to get to Kincaid and Smith. Both were lifted onto gurneys: Kincaid was transported to the hospital via ambulance while Smith was airlifted to a hospital where she was later pronounced brain-dead. The smell of beer surrounded the stands as Officer Chris Osborne pulled out three empty, fresh containers of beer from Hamner’s car. The crowd was silent except for sniffles and sighs as they watched their fellow classmates’ conditions. Knutty’s mother was called to the scene of the accident where she was asked to identify her son’s lifeless body. He was then shifted to a gurney — his black Nike shoes off and a toe tag placed on his left foot — as he was zipped into a body bag and transported to the morgue. “If you knew Derek … he was probably up to something,” a shaky-voiced Principal Debra Hawkins said. Emotions ran high after the simulated crash scene for some students. “One of the girls is my best friend,” Senior Gianna Polli said after the simulation. Polli and fellow students Kaitlyn Sanviel and Alexis Houdek all said seeing Derek’s mom was the hardest part. The demonstration was especially moving because the students didn’t know the mock crash and Every 15 Minutes program was even scheduled. “It’s pretty tough because it was like she was just there last night,” Polli said of her best friend Kincaid. The following morning’s events were equally, if not more, emotional for many students. A mock memorial service was held to remember the students who were killed by drunk drivers. Students gathered in the school gymnasium, where a casket was carried in, followed by the “living dead” dressed in all black. Each placed a single red rose on the casket. “We will deeply miss the smiles they have from ear to ear … they will forever be a part of the Whitney family,” said Jason Feuerbach, master of ceremonies. “A split-second decision … a decision that could have been stopped … a decision that killed students.” Parents of the living dead sat to the side of the stage, boxes of tissues among them. Jake Joslin and Brad Stark, Lincoln High School graduates, told the true story of their drunk-driving experience, which killed one of their best friends. For Joslin and Stark, it was an opportunity for the Whitney High students to learn from their mistakes with hopes that it wouldn’t happen to them. It was obvious the program had a strong impact on the five students involved in the crash as they tearfully shared their personal experiences. “This program has affected me so much,” Knutty said though tears. “To see my mom come identify my body, to see the pain, it just killed me. As soon as my mom came up, I broke down in tears.” Lefebvre admitted to getting in the car with a driver who had been drinking. “It’s not a game, it’s not funny when you lose someone you love,” she said. Students among the living dead read farewell letters to their parents and loved ones and two parents read letters to their “deceased” child. The program concluded with advice from Officer Osborne about choice. “Whether the choice is easy or hard, sometimes you have to make it. You will have to live with whatever choice you make,” he said. Contact Lauren Weber at laurenw@goldcountrymedia.com.