Just minutes after 1,200 or so juniors and seniors at Anaheim High School quietly watched the macabre aftermath of a mock DUI crash as part of the “Every 15 Minutes” program, a teacher told the crowd a story about a former AHS student.
Just like the students who, midmorning Thursday, watched Anaheim police and Anaheim Fire & Rescue firefighters respond to a staged crash that “killed” two AHS students, Rafael Lopez, too, sat through an “Every 15 Minutes” program, history teacher Maria Gamboa told the teens.
Gamboa, the school’s main organizer (with teacher Carissa Sanchez) of this year’s “Every 15 Minutes” program at AHS, had Lopez as a student.
The week after he turned 18, an intoxicated Lopez slammed his speeding car into another vehicle, killing a father and son. Steven and Douglas Uselton were pronounced dead at the scene of the crash Dec. 18, 2010, when Lopez’s Mitsubishi broadsided their Buick at Crescent and Knott avenues in Buena Park.
Lopez never thought it would happen to him, Gamboa told the hushed crowd of teenagers.
For his crime, Lopez was sentenced to 30 years to life.
“Think about it,” Gamboa told the AHS students. “It can happen. It’s not about today, it’s not about tomorrow, it’s not about prom night – it’s about the rest of your life. Do not let us have to have the pain of having another (AHS student) take a life and ruin his or her own life. (Lopez) didn’t believe it could happen to him. But it can happen to any one of us. Keep that in your minds and in your hearts.”
This time of year, with prom and graduation rapidly approaching, several high schools in Orange County stage “Every 15 Minutes” programs, which stretch over two days and involve the reading of obituaries of hand-picked students and comments from parents forced to spend a night without them after they are “killed” in a DUI crash.
It’s realistic, troubling stuff — which is the whole point.
Michael Bates, a veteran dispatcher at Metro Cities Fire Authority (Metro Net) in Anaheim, was among several AF&R and APD personnel who participated in Thursday’s staged emergency call, in which a male student at AHS, following an overnight pool party, slammed his gray Chevy Malibu head first into a white Nissan Rogue early the next morning, killing his passenger and one of two female students in the Nissan.
“Hopefully this has the effect that it’s supposed to,” said Bates, who played the role of dispatcher on the double-fatality call — and who has played it, several times, in real life.
Students who played the dead AHS teens wore realistic makeup and were drenched in edible fake blood.
Engine 1 and Truck 1 from Anaheim Fire & Rescue responded, and firefighters used cutting tools to extricate one badly injured “victim” from the Nissan.
The student who played the drunk driver was arrested and whisked away in a police car near the end of the 45-minute demonstration on Citron Street.
Most of Thursday, a grim reaper roamed the campus, plucking about 20 “dead” students out of class. These “walking dead” students then spent the rest of the day in ghoulish makeup and were told not to talk to anyone.
Brandon Lopez, an 18-year-old senior, played the role of the drunk driver. Gamboa said she selected Lopez because he is well known on campus.
Lopez’s “dead” companion was fellow athlete Joel Montes de Oca, 17.
“I’m sure it sends out a good message,” Montes de Oca said of the “Every 15 Minutes” program. “Maybe instead of driving drunk someone will use Uber now.”
After the two “dead” students were whisked away Thursday, Anaheim PD Motor Officer Patrick Bradley stepped up to the microphone.
“If you survive one of these accidents,” Bradley told the AHS students, “and unfortunately if people in your car don’t, you will live with that for the rest of your life. It is not something you will forget. It will stay with you — every sound, smell feeling — for the rest of your life.”
Bradley urged the students to make the right decisions, and he wished them luck.
APD Officer Frank Ramirez spent part of Thursday accompanying the Grim Reaper to classrooms.
In one classroom, Ramirez read the fake obituary of senior Carlos Garcia, 17, after the Grim Reaper (Christopher Padilla, 16, a junior) escorted Garcia out of his independent studies class.
In his fake death scenario, Garcia had been waiting at a crosswalk when a drunk driver lost control and hit him.
Ramirez told the students Garcia liked soccer and spending time with his family, and that he planned to attend Cal State Fullerton and major in business and start his own clothing company.
Even the Grim Reaper himself was a bit shaken up by the Thursday’s events.
“This program is really impactful,” Padilla said. “These things happen in real life.”