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ABCs of driving & drinking
Every 15 Minutes lesson for teens
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A rescue helicopter lands on the Sierra High football field Thursday as emergency workers continue to treat injured students in a simulated crash that could occur anywhere on graduation night. - photo by GLENN KAHL
It’s a vignette of real tragedy - “Every 15 Minutes” - that Manteca emergency workers hope will have an impact on high school seniors and their parents.

In a dramatization of a horrific traffic accident scene, Manteca’s first responders and educators alike hope they can prevent just one fatal accident from happening during the graduation celebration week.

Students from four high schools - Manteca, East Union, Sierra and Calla - walked into the Sierra High School football field. Along with parents there were more than 1,100 in the audience crowded together in the stadium seating.

Seniors had been pulled out of their classrooms earlier in the day when the “grim reaper” paid a visit and a Manteca police officer read a death notice to the classmates of the deceased.

The death notice was taped to the deceased students’ desk for other students to read throughout the remainder of the day. They had been killed by a drunk driver.

At Sierra High School the small group entered the classroom of Audrey Rose Govea, 18,  and detective Linda Donnelson read the obituary to the class as Audrey was led out of the class. As with all the deceased, her classmates and her family members would not see her “alive” for the next 24 hours.

The notice told of Audrey being home where she was hanging out with family and friends.  A vehicle slammed into the front of her house, crashing through the front wall and pinning her beneath it.  

Despite efforts by paramedics, Audrey was pronounced dead at the scene from massive head injuries. The driver of the vehicle was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol. It went on to mention her family members who survived her and noted the location of the funeral.

Officer Jason Hensley entered his share of class as well.  He would announce to the class that he word of the death of a classmate -- then asking them to bow their heads in respect as he read the rest of the obituary.

Students outside the crash scene and  participating in the drama were declared the “walking dead” and were used as a human background to the accident trauma on the field.  Their parents took part in the event, as well, including the memorial service scheduled for Friday at a local church.

Manteca police sergeant Chris Mraz acted as emcee for the crime scene explaining the time lapse that was normal for emergency responders to reach the victims - there would be no real help for some 15 minutes.

Two badly damaged cars - a Volvo sedan and a red Firebird - were displayed to a shocked audience who could see the extent of injuries and death before them. Students were visibly hurt and dying.

A lone police car screamed into the stadium as the first on the scene. Sgt. Mraz explained that one officer could not help anyone but only direct fire and ambulance crews to the scene and start a triage through his observations.

Within what seemed like all too many minutes other police, two ambulance and fire engines rushed into the scene with lights and siren sounding - checking on the seriousness of all the victims. They separated the dead from those critically injured and others with minor injuries.

Charles Howard, III, of Calla High, was the driver of the four-door Volvo sedan that would have firefighters cutting off its roof to remove victims. He was later found to have been drinking and was arrested for major felonies. Howard received only minor injuries.

Maleah Burch, a Sierra senior, had been riding in the front passenger seat of the Volvo and had been thrown through the windshield onto the hood of the car.  She was declared dead at the scene.

Kadi Todd, of East Union High School, had been riding in the rear seat on the driver’s side.  She was among the walking wounded with minor injuries.  The other student in the back seat was Steven Huffman from Manteca High School.  He was going in and out of consciousness.

Driver of the Firebird, Dominic Crossland, of Calla High School, had to be cut out from behind the wheel by firemen with the Jaws of Life - but it was too late. His front seat passenger, Brooklynn Gulart, of Manteca High suffered a delayed femur fracture.

Johnny Quesada, East Union, had been sitting to the rear of the driver. He was partially ejected from the car and was airlifted out by helicopter to a trauma center where he died.  Quesada’s parents were called to identify their son’s body at the hospital.

Jeff De Hart, also riding in the rear seat, escaped serious injury and joined the group of walking wounded.

The two fatally injured students were placed on the grass awaiting Sheriff’s coroners deputies who placed them in body bags that were then picked up by a local mortuary.

The Every 15-Minutes event continued with a court trial scheduled at 3 p.m. at the Manteca Christian Worship Center on Button Avenue where students would spend the night with volunteers and police officers.

They were also required to prewrite letters to their parents and their families on the possibility of their untimely deaths.  Parents were asked to respond in kind.

A number of those letters will be read today at an assembly of an expected 2,300 students and family members at a memorial set up at the Manteca Christian Worship Center - expected to be a very emotional event.

Sgt. Mraz ended the football field assembly by pleading with the students to remember this day when they decide to party at graduation, not wanting anyone to be caught in a real-life crash scene that might send someone to the morgue and tear apart families in the process.