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Mock funeral drives point home to teens

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Mock funeral drives point home to teens

There were unexpected tears from students, parents and teachers at the Lathrop High School Every 15 Minutes funeral ceremonies Friday noon where two students were “killed” in a scripted head-on col...

GLENN KAHL/The Bulletin


POSTED March 23, 2013 2:12 a.m.

LATHROP — There was plenty of tissue in use at the Lathrop High gym on Friday I have to admit there were a couple tears that touched my cheek as the death and dying in an alcohol fueled traffic crash dramatization brought back memories of those I have covered over the years.

Students and parents alike were overcome with emotion during the scripted funeral for two of their classmates who were “killed” in this week’s Every 15 Minutes scenario involving a drunken driver.

As always it was difficult for many to separate fact from fantasy as student pallbearers carried two caskets into the high school gym at 11 a.m. Friday – respectfully escorting two of their 2013 and 2014 year fellow classmates.

As I walked up to the gym at about 11:30 there were three girls coming out of the building dashing behind a parked fire truck and one was hysterical with grief as the other two girls and a counselor sat her down on a curbing and tried to comfort her.  With her face in her hands, she was sobbing uncontrollably.

Inside the gym sat another student wearing an orange jump suit.  Her ankles were shackled and she was in handcuffs with a Lathrop Police Services patrolman sitting next to her as a guard.  The gym seats were filled with some 500 juniors and seniors who were watching a video of Thursday’s court drama before Superior Court Judge Tony Agbiani.  The court action followed a graphic enactment of an actual DUI crash with responding fire, police, ambulance and helicopter evacuation personnel.

You could almost hear a pin drop in the gym on Friday.  Speakers followed the video with Pastor Joey Macias, Judge Agbiani, retired Sheriff’s Lieutenant Chris Stevens along with students and parents.

Stevens, a motivational speaker who is addressing 10 high schools this year, said the Sheriff’s Department normally dispatches two deputies to inform parents of a teen’s death, because they are often met with a violent reaction to the news.

He urged the juniors and seniors in the audience to take care of each other – friends don’t let friends drink and drive.  To the girls he urged, “Ladies, take the keys, don’t let the guys drive if they have been drinking.”

Melissa Webster told the audience that she has been there losing her sister to a drunk driver a half dozen years ago.  It is a trauma that continues to interrupt her night’s sleep even today, thinking about her younger sister dying alone on the street.  Melissa is devoted to her sister’s memory with her continued presentations to high school E-15 Minute sessions and pleading with teens to think about the consequences.

“It’s been six years since I lost my sister.  There is a hole in my heart,” she added.

Judge Agbiani went to the microphone in a business suit.  A short time later he announced he was about to put on his work clothes – a long, black robe.  He noted that he and his wife have nine children.

He said teens that have come before him in fatal DUI, second degree murder cases, appear in an orange jail jump suits as did the student in the gym playing out that role with bail set at $1 million. 

“That means if your parents want to come and pick you up they have to have $100,000 to make bail,” he added.

“It takes 1.8 seconds to make a decision,” he said that can affect the rest of a teenager’s life.  The judge added that it only took 1.8 seconds for the driver to make a decision about going to that party where he drank Dr. Pepper.  But it took another 1.8 seconds to decide to drink from a bottle of Tequila.

After the teen driver got in the car, it took just 1.8 seconds to make the decision to switch on the ignition key.  The vehicle came up to a yellow light and it took another 1.8 seconds to go ahead and drive the remaining 100 feet through the intersection that resulted in killing a man and his daughter in cross traffic.

The judge said he gets letters from family members and friends pleading for leniency and mercy and later hearing how mean he is because of the sentences he hands down to the DUI defendants.

“When I balance it out between you and the woman who lost her family – it’s 50 years to life,” he said.  Families ask for a second chance, but the victim’s family in a DUI crash will not get a second chance at life, he stressed.

“I’m not interested in giving you a new life after you took someone else’s life,” he thundered. 

Agbiani said that people come up to him on the street and ask if he wasn’t their DUI judge in high school for the Every 15 Minute demonstration.  One former student he remembers well told him, “I didn’t drive that night.  I’m alive!”

The judge said the man just turned and walked away.

He continued his oratory telling the students that their 17 to 18 years of life to date represents 567 million seconds out of the normal 2.2 billion seconds that tick off in a lifetime.

Do you want to let yourself make a bad decision that takes less than two seconds and determine how you are going to spend the rest of your life, he asked.  It could be in a 6-by 9 foot cell where you won’t be eligible for parole for 32 years.

As for me when I have to cover a fatal collision, there is little I can do but respectfully report the event and say a simple prayer for everyone involved in the trauma that took one more life.

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