Many juniors and seniors were driven to tears – a few to near hysterics – May 26 when a uniformed police officer arrived in several classrooms to notify them that a fellow student had been killed in a drunken-driving accident.
The officer read a brief eulogy, placed a rose on the deceased student's seat, then left the class members to process their thoughts and emotions for the next hour.
The program, titled "Every 15 Minutes," was designed by Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Its title refers to the frequency in which a person somewhere in the country dies in an alcohol-related traffic accident.
About 10 a.m., students were called to the athletic stadium, where they learned that their classmates had not died. There, a group of seniors, police officers and firefighters staged a startlingly realistic alcohol-induced fatal car crash. The students who had purportedly died portrayed ghostly apparitions encircling the scene.
Though the deception left some teens temporarily confused and angry, if it makes even one student think twice before getting behind the wheel of a car while intoxicated, it is worth the price, said California Highway Patrol Officer Eric Newbury, who orchestrates the program at local high schools.
"If I sit there and lecture somebody in a nice way, it's going to go in one ear and out the other," he said. "In today's world, where they have all sorts of gore and fantastic things that kids can access on the computer, if you want to compete with that, you have to jar them emotionally.
"I want them to be an emotional wreck. I don't want them to have to live through this for real."