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Staged accident makes big impact

 

Last updated 4/12/2007 at Noon



An explosion rocked Fallbrook High School at 8:05 a.m. the morning of April 3 and the 1,265 students seated in the football stadium bleachers were jolted to attention.

Within moments of the 184-decibel boom, a string of emergency vehicles – fire engines, paramedic units, Sheriff’s deputies and California Highway Patrol units – screamed in through the stadium gates with sirens blaring. Senior Volunteer patrol members arrived to direct traffic and Trauma Intervention Program volunteers materialized to provide support. They were all responding to a disastrous, deadly alcohol-induced car crash between two vehicles containing students from the school.

Fortunately, the crash is staged. It is part of the Every 15 Minutes program (named for the fact that every 15 minutes an individual in the United States is killed by a drunk driver) that carries a big message for young people by encouraging them to make responsible decisions. For Sandy Kelso, a mother of four and 16-year resident of Bonsall, the scene is almost too much. Her youngest son, Ryan Kyle Boone, was killed in August of 1999 at the age of 17 while giving a ride home to two intoxicated friends, she said. Boone, who was sober at the wheel, was killed, Kelso said, after the boy sitting in the middle of his truck grabbed the wheel, causing the vehicle to careen out of control on I-15 near Mission Road. Boone’s truck rolled six to seven times before coming to a halt.

“The others got out with scratches and the emergency workers told me [the other two boys] were drunk and laughing while rescue workers were trying to cut Ryan out of the vehicle,” Kelso said.

Boone had attended the “last party of the summer” that evening, Kelso said, and had easily agreed to be home by his 11 p.m. curfew. He checked in with his parents at 8 p.m., which Kelso said was typical of the responsible young man. At 11:30 p.m. an emergency room nurse called Kelso’s home to inform her of the tragedy and ask her to come to the hospital.

On the day of Boone’s memorial service, it was “standing room only.” For six months, fellow students laid fresh flowers at the high school’s flagpole in remembrance of Boone. Kelso said she received letters and photos from his peers for three years after he passed.

“I count my blessings that I am here because I feel I need to make a difference,” Kelso said. “It is every parent’s worst fear; it is truly a nightmare that no parent should have to go through.”

It was North County Fire’s John Buchanan who approached Kelso about being involved in Fallbrook Drive Safe Task Force’s Every 15 Minutes program, which he has devoted countless hours to, in order to help educate young people and encourage them to act responsibly.

“It has been very, very difficult for me, but if I can stop one family from going through what we did, then working hard on this program is worth it,” said Kelso. “This program saves lives.”

Saving lives is what Buchanan and his team does – and they do it well. The proof is in the statistics. Between 1990 and 1999, before Buchanan implemented a combination of anti-drinking and driving programs, including a slideshow about what happens when tragedy hits, the Choices: Think First program and Every 15 Minutes, Buchanan says between two and four Fallbrook High students perished each year in irresponsible accidents.

“During the years we have been able to put this program on at Fallbrook High, we have not lost any young people to these types of accidents. In the years we haven’t, lives have been lost,” he said.

Buchanan began a slideshow program in 1999 that showed what results from tragic accidents due to poor judgment. In 2000, he, Randy Meers of North County Fire, Madelyn Goble, Jennifer Sietel and Sandy Kelso, along with other volunteers of the Fallbrook Drive Safe Task Force, a private nonprofit organization, presented the first Every 15 Minutes program at Fallbrook High. Developed in 1992 by a police officer, Every 15 Minutes is a concept that has been used statewide. In 2001, Buchanan reverted to the slideshow with live speakers, and in 2002 and 2003 a Choices: Think First video was presented that combined various aspects of the program.

Buchanan tried to schedule the programs at Fallbrook High in 2004 and 2005 but arrangements couldn’t be confirmed with the school. In 2005, the Fallbrook Healthcare District approved $12,000 in grant money for the Choices: Think First program, with directors emphasizing that they felt it was a worthwhile program for the youth of the community.

In December of 2005, another high school student perished in an alcohol-related crash; this time it was 16-year-old Athena Harris. In early 2006, Fallbrook High School reconnected with Buchanan. Due to time constraints, a video presentation was accomplished in 2006 and the Every 15 Minutes program was scheduled for April 4 and 5, 2007.

When 2007 arrived, Fallbrook High made a bigger commitment than ever to the cause. Buchanan and his crew were given the go-ahead to also provide the Choices: Think First program for all ninth grade students, to be conducted in the mandatory 45-day health class requirement.

“Fallbrook High’s ASB Director, Josh Way, is a strong advocate for this program,” Buchanan said. “I am in hopes that it will be regularly scheduled in the future.” Since the Every 15 Minutes program is seen by juniors and seniors only, it is designed to repeat every two years, with the Choices: Think First video programs used in alternate years.

When the Every 15 Minutes program was presented last week, it was the result of almost a year of planning, culminating with a massive volunteer effort to stage the high-impact event.

After Buchanan, Meers, Goble and Kelso began moving forward, a survey was used to find students from a cultural and social cross-section to participate as “victims” in the 2007 program.

Twenty-three individuals were selected for this year’s Every 15 Minutes program. It was explained that a two-day commitment was required and the plan would proceed as follows: on April 4, the students would report to room 201 on campus to drop off an overnight bag packed with one night’s worth of essentials, after which a small number would have theatrical makeup applied to simulate automobile crash victims. Those victims would be taken to the crash site at the football stadium prior to 8 a.m. to be placed appropriately in the wreckage by the volunteers. Wrecked vehicles had been secured previously by the volunteers and placed in position to signify a head-on collision.

After the crash “occurred” at 8:05 that morning and emergency workers arrived, a “reporter” with a cameraman in tow narrated what had happened for the student audience. After a handful of victims were removed from the wreckage and taken away by Berry-Bell & Hall Fallbrook Mortuary and a North County Fire Protection District ambulance, and a drunk driver was given a sobriety test by the California Highway Patrol and later handcuffed and taken into custody, the audience was asked to return to their classrooms. The remainder of the students involved in the program were systematically removed, every 15 minutes until noon, from classrooms throughout the campus by someone dressed to represent the Grim Reaper.

After being escorted from their classrooms, the students were taken to room 201, where they were made up to look like “The Living Dead,” with white makeup and dark accents around their eyes. These students were requested not to talk to any of their peers at school (except for a “safe room” for participants) for the remainder of the day, as if they were truly dead.

“The secret to this program is to keep it quiet,” Madelyn Goble, an emergency room nurse, said.

Meanwhile, with the camera still rolling, Fallbrook Hospital tries to “resuscitate” crash victims; Berry-Bell & Hall Fallbrook Mortuary “prepares” a student for burial, a Sheriff’s deputy delivers a “death notification” to a family and a drunk driver is fingerprinted and booked into jail.

At the end of day one, the students playing roles in the program were transported to a retreat, where they spent the evening together with adult volunteers. They listened to special speakers who had had real life experiences similar to the ones the students enacted. Before going to bed, they were asked to write “goodbye” letters to their families, as though they had been given that opportunity before perishing in a real accident. At their homes, their parents were asked to perform the same task – to write a goodbye letter to their son or daughter.

The second day, the students were transported to school wearing special t-shirts designed for the program and rejoined their peers (the junior and senior classes) for an assembly in the school’s gymnasium. A casket took center place as student “victims” were seated on one side of the casket and their families on the other with guest speakers. The film footage that was shot the previous day, at both the stadium crash site and offsite at the various locations, was shown to the crowd. Some of the students were asked to read their “goodbye” letters aloud. Select parents were asked to read their letters as well. Tears flowed – in students and parents alike. The audience in the bleachers was remarkably quiet and respectful. Many dabbed at their eyes, faces sober and thoughtful.

Guest speakers who had experienced personal tragedies addressed the audience, telling of their paralyzing injuries and the losses they endured. They told of how their lives were changed forever because of irresponsible decision-making. Jennifer Sietel told how her dancing and cheerleading focus changed at age 16 after she was in a tragic accident that left her paralyzed and her sister dead.

“It’s all about choices and the consequences of choices,” Sietel emphasized to the crowd. “I will never cheer again, or dance again; I never had the opportunity to see a program like this. I have learned it’s not life or death; it’s life, death or disability. It happens every day, we just never think it will happen to us.”

At the conclusion of the two-day event, a large banner was taped to the side of a building on campus and students were asked to sign their names as a commitment to make responsible choices. The banner filled quickly with student signatures.

At the planning sessions, and at the conclusion of the program, Buchanan voiced his sincere thanks.

“We wholeheartedly thank everyone so much for being involved in this program,” he said. “We know your heart is into this.”

“We just hope we can make a difference,” Sandy Kelso said.

John Buchanan is an engineer/paramedic, as well as the Public Education and Public Information Officer for North County Fire Protection District.

Student participants in Every 15 Minutes 2007

Ashley Bickford, Amy Boren, Virginia Bradstock, Shannon Cone, Kristina Bay Ewald, Lauren Fenn, Branche Foston, Kaitlin Goertz, Nick Gomez, Adriana Ponce Jimenez, Tim Leonelli, Matt Lian, Ray Lian, Allison Logue, Wade Munson, Elizabeth Peterson, Kelly Recker, Jonathan Reeser, Erick Sampson, Ashley Speakman, Andrew Tsavahidis, Erica Morales, Brooke Wojdynski

Cost of the Every 15 Minutes program

After the generosity of sponsors such as Coldwell Banker Landmark Group, Major Market, Albertson’s, Daniel’s Apple Market, Ultra Graphix, La Caseta Mexican Restaurant and Dominick’s Delicatessen, as well as other businesses and individuals, the 2007 cost to present the program was between $5,000 and $6,000.

 

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