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Driving home a deadly lesson at Ripon High

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Tia Sidtikun was a trapped passenger in a car driven by a friend. Firefighters used the Jaws of Life to cut off the roof of the car and extricate her from the vehicle. She reportedly died at the ...

GLENN KAHL/The Bulletin

POSTED April 4, 2013 2:08 a.m.

Three Ripon High juniors told of the impact the Every 15 Minutes DUI drama had on them as they reflected upon the horror of the simulated crash scene at the high school campus Tuesday morning that claimed the lives of two of their classmates.

Kelsey, Hannah. and Morgan were interviewed in the school parking lot as they were getting their brown bag lunches out of their car.  They had been sitting in the stands for over an hour with some 250 juniors and seniors focused on the horrors of drinking behind the wheel.

“I was crying – it was too realistic,” Kelsey admitted.  “It was hard seeing one of my best friends carried away on a stretcher.  Hannah added that it all became very real when she saw the ambulance pull up on the crash scene.

“When I saw Brittany put in the body bag, it was hard to watch.  We went to elementary school together at Weston,” Hannah said.

Morgan added, “It’s an eye opener.  It’s scary but sad that you could lose a friend that quickly.”

The crash scene had been set up at the north end of Acacia Avenue just beyond the high school gyms.  Two cars had collided with each other.  A girl was trapped with serious injuries on the passenger side of one of the cars and another girl had been thrown through the windshield of the other – sprawling “lifeless” on the hood of her vehicle.

Covered with blood her friends rushed to her side and attempted to wake her but to no avail as fire, police and ambulance units arrived about five minutes into the golden hour – a time limit used as a guide in resuscitating an injured victim.

Retired Sheriff’s Lieutenant and E-15 narrator Chris Stevens, who served some 25 years in the county, had gone into retirement rather than have to give up on his Every 15 Minutes assignment.  Stevens now works passionately at nearly a dozen schools with the event throughout the region.

Stevens stood in a cloud of smoke from the collision between two vehicles as he talked to the students, teachers and parents standing and sitting in the stands. He asked those who had been affected by someone drinking and driving in a DUI collision to raise their hands – 15 percent did.

Then Stevens asked for those who knew someone who had been affected by a drunk driver to raise their hands as well – 50 percent of the hands went up.

Stevens impressed the student audience by telling them that someone is going to get sued as a result of the deaths in the crash.

“Maybe your parents are going to get sued and lose their pensions and have to work two jobs for the rest of their lives,” he barked.

The retired Sheriff’s officer then explained how as a deputy coroner he had to inspect the head and body of the dead and look for fractures before putting a fatality in a body bag.  

The head is felt for fractures by taking it in both hands and massaging it to see how it reacts, he added. Then the jaw is studied because it is the first to show the effects of rigor mortos.  That will determine the approximate time of death, he continued, noting that you have to listen for the grinding of the bones.

Ripon High Vice Principal Keith Rangel said it best when he stressed, “This is all about kids.  If we can save even one life with the program and the community involvement and donations we receive,  it is well worth the $10,000 grant paying for it.”

He added that the food the school needs for the participants and other added costs,  not included in the state grant,  comes from those community donations to make it all work.  The funeral and its impact on the teens and their families was held on Wednesday.

“These kids took it all to heart,” commented CHP public information officer James Smith at the end of the Every 15 Minutes drama.  Ripon Officer Steve Meece agreed saying that the silence of the student crowd told of the impact it was making upon the student body.

Hopefully it will change bad behavior and improve driving habits, Meece added.

The day was long from over as the DUI crash scenario came to an end.  Students were then required to see their classmate go before a Superior Court Judge from Stockton, finding her guilty and sentencing her to 30 years to life in state prison.

Those involved in the program included Nicole Kaiser who played the part of the DUI charged driver.  Also participating was Brittany Ellis, who was declared dead at the scene, and Tia Sidtikun who later died at the hospital.  Andrew Carlson played the part of the “Grim Reaper.”

Other students in the program included Alexa Rios, Savannah Vizcarra, Samuel Beeler, Eddie Menchaca, Haylee Fannin, Michael Ysit, Marissa Valdez, Matthew Uecker, Kennedy Gonzalez, Samantha Evans, Hailey Perez, Brandon Marquez, Nicolas Solario, Blake Morrow, Josh McCreath, Hendrik Gaalswyk, Lucas Bunting, Gracelyn Pope and Alisha Wilks.

Ripon Officer Trevor McGinnis was responsible for organizing the Every 15 Minutes, but he was quick to say that he had a lot of help from volunteers and other agencies needed to put the scenario together.

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