The program involves students acting as victims of a drunken driving accident, while first responders play out a realistic demonstration of what happens at a crash scene.
Some of the more than 400 seniors at West High gasped when officials removed tarps to reveal their classmates in a simulated head-on-collision at the school, 1775 W. Lowell Ave.
“I think it’s a realistic representation of what occurs a little too often,” said Tracy Unified School District Superintendent James Franco as he watched with the students. “It’s an important message that I hope will stick with the kids past this event. I think it will.”
Before sirens filled the air, some of the crash “victims” jumped out of their cars and began screaming and crying.
Sprawled across the hood of a car was Lindsey Cardinale, a member of the cheerleading team, who portrayed an ejected student pronounced dead at the scene. Crying at her side were students Kathy Le and Ashley Arata.
Portraying the drunken driver was Ronel Jesuitas, who paced while “victims” Ernest Turner and Scott Romo yelled at him.
Trapped inside the drunken driver’s car was athlete Eddie Kaye, who yelled he couldn’t feel his legs, and Mitchell Selna, who was unconscious in the backseat.
Within moments, two Tracy fire engines and police cars from the California Highway Patrol and Tracy Police Department arrived, followed by two ambulances.
Senior Colleen Madden watched attentively as firefighters used the Jaws of Life to cut away the roof of the drunken driver’s car.
“It’s a little bit shocking,” she said. “I know some of the people in the accident, Eddie and Mitchell. They are in my class and you always knew them as bright and happy.”
According to school officials, this was the first simulated accident to be portrayed at West since the crash that killed Michael Ucci in front of the school in 2007.
Ucci was a junior at the school, and the crash also left Ucci’s daughter, Marie, paralyzed for several months. The driver, Bret Clifton, who was Michael’s best friend, lost both of his legs. Alcohol wasn’t a factor in the crash.
Shanna Liel, activities director for West High, said the event is meant to make students think about their actions before making decisions.
“Everybody knows it’s fake, but we’re tying to make an impact,” she said. “We’re not unrealistic — they will drink, but I hope they will think before they put the keys in their hands. We care so much about these kids we’ll do anything to keep them alive.”
Volunteers playing crash victims were happy to do their part.
“I was chosen to be the (drunken) driver,” Jesuitas said. “I’m nervous, but at the same time excited. The reason I really wanted to do it was to get the whole experience. I’ve seen people drink and drive. I was always the one who would make sure they were safe, grab the keys or go with them.”
Kaye said he jumped at the opportunity to be in the program.
“I think it will have an impact,” Kaye said. “It’s great to share this message. If it really happened, my career would be over. We take for granted what could be taken in an instant.”
Adam Shelton, spokesman for the Tracy-area CHP office, said he hopes to hold two Every 15 Minutes programs a year at different high schools in Tracy.
“It might not be feasible to do three, but that’s my goal, at least two,” he said.
To accommodate the crash scenario, both directions of Lowell Avenue were closed to traffic from 9:30 a.m. and 11 a.m.
“We’re doing it true to life with the scene on the roadway,” Shelton said. “It’s more real — looks like a collision scene. Visually it’s more true to life.”
The Every 15 Minute program cost $10,000 for each simulation and it is funded through a state grant by the Office of Traffic Safety.
• Contact Denise Ellen Rizzo at 830-4225 or firstname.lastname@example.org.