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Drinking + driving = Disaster
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Manteca firefighters move past two dead passengers to give treatment to the driver in a second car. Both vehicles had their roofs removed with the Jaws of Life. - photo by GLENN KAHL

The “Every 15 Minutes” scenario depicting the consequences of drinking and driving, as it relates to high school graduations, played out once again as a stark warning in the Manteca High School athletic field before the upper class students of four area schools.

A total of 105 students were cast for the deadly alcohol-laced simulation that claimed four young lives and sent others to the hospital in critical to minor conditions.  Eight of those students were part of the crash scene witnessed by their peers in the bleachers from Manteca High, East Union, Sierra, and Calla high schools.

It was at 10 a.m. Thursday that firefighters pulled back the tarps covering the two cars that had careened together as the result of a driver behind the wheel being in a drunken state.  Karl Huckaby was cast as that driver. He was seen going through a DUI roadside test as firefighters cut off the roofs of the nearby cars.

Manteca Police Sergeant Chris Mraz narrated the event, standing with microphone in hand on the high school track.  Police motorcycle officers roared into the stadium with patrol cars following closely behind – followed by fire and ambulance vehicles.

Alec Palesch was in that car having been pinned in the wreckage and pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital.  In the rear seat was Paul Paulino who was first listed as an immediate victim but died during treatment.  In the rear seat on the driver’s side was Rebekah Jacobsen who was also injured but suffering from non-life threatening cuts and bruises.

The driver of the second vehicle was Colin Scholl who reportedly died at the hospital.  Also pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital was Derek Bleak who had been riding in the rear seat on the driver’s side of the car.  Giovanna Mercado had been sitting in the rear on the passenger’s side where she received major injuries in the crash.  In the front passenger seat of the second vehicle was Brenda Padilla who had called 911 after the crash.  Her injuries were minor, police said.

The “walking dead” troupe went from classroom to classroom before the scheduled 10 a.m. crash . They called out students who were losing their lives in the presentation – students who would not be seen by family and friends until after the subsequent court trial and funeral on Friday.

They were lead by the “Grim Reaper” and a black rose, and a formal obituary with the student’s picture,  would be left on their desks for the remainder of the two-day program.

One such obituary was for Giovanna Mercado.  It read:

“Giovanna Mercado died on April 25th, 2012.  Giovanna was at an after-prom party with friends.  Giovanna and her friends were not drinking.  Giovanna got a ride home when a vehicle hit their car.  The driver of the other car was intoxicated.  This was his fourth DUI.  Giovanna was pronounced dead at the San Joaquin Hospital where her family took her off of life support.

“Giovanna was a senior at Manteca High School.  She enjoyed playing soccer and tennis and in her free time also liked to read.  Giovanna’s future plans are to become a nurse and move to Mexico to live her life to the fullest.  She will be remembered for her independent spirit and her love for others.

“Giovanna is survived by her parents Gino and Gaby;  siblings Tino, Stephania and Noeil.  A memorial service will be held at St. Anthony’s Church in Manteca.

Today a funeral is scheduled for the four students who died of their injuries at the Place of  Refuge on Button Avenue north of Yosemite Avenue.  Students as well as parents are expected to attend where they will hear from a Superior Court Judge, a civil attorney and students who have an involvement with past DUI tragedies – events they will never forget.

The judge will explain the consequences of being found guilty of a second degree murder charge related to DUI driving that takes the lives of others.  It carries a shocking 20 years to life sentence in prison.

The DUI program comes at a cost of some $10,000 to prevent at least one death on the area roads and highways in support of a sober graduation next month.