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A sobering look at drinking & driving
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Lathrop-Manteca firefighters in the foreground work on a seriously injured passenger they cut out of a car in the background as Manteca city firemen extricate a passenger from another vehicle using the Jaws of Life. - photo by GLENN KAHL

A simulated fatal crash on the Manteca High Guss Schmiedt Field athletic track involving drinking and driving was orchestrated before hundreds of Manteca Unified School District students Thursday morning in an attempt to protect them from a DUI tragedy.

Retired Sheriff’s Lieutenant Chris Stevens took the microphone and narrated the event that involved two vehicles, at least two fatalities, and numerous serious injuries.  Stevens has talked about the reality of DUIs to thousands of students at over 100 “Every 15 Minutes” presentations throughout the county during his career.

The Manteca High stadium was filled with seniors from Manteca, Sierra, East Union and Calla high schools.  A group of nearly 100 students called “The Living Dead” provided a backdrop as they lined up through the center part of the football field.

He explained how important the first “Golden Hour” is to the survival of crash victims and counted off the first three minutes it normally takes for police personnel to arrive on the scene.  Motorcycle Officer David Bright was first to enter the stadium with lights and siren blaring.  Within some 30 to 40 seconds Patrolman Dan Chestnut rounded the corner from the nearby Powers Tract subdivision and entered the field gate.

Manteca Fire Department Rescue Unit 24 was next on the scene followed by one Manteca Ambulance and another fire truck.  A second ambulance responded within a few minutes as emergency personnel checked the two vehicles for injures.  The Lathrop-Manteca Department rendered mutual-aid sending one of their own fire companies to the scene.

Most of the students in the stands watched intently as Stevens continued to explain what was happening and how many minutes remained in that “Golden Hour” that  would spell the difference of life and death for the unconscious crash victims.

Manteca School Resource Officers April Smith and Eva Steele were in charge of the program from the onset. They had students join a “Grim Reaper” visiting the classrooms and reading the obituaries of those who had died from a DUI crash.  It was designed to make more of an impact upon the students. 

Officer Steele had one intern, Herjig Cheema, assist her in the program.   He is also an active Manteca Police cadet.  A high school junior, Cheema will have a more important role in next year’s Every 15 Minutes after taking part in this year’s event.   He is already planning on a law enforcement career after he finishes college.

Students watched as motorcycle officer Bright gave the responsible driver – student Joseph Samson of Sierra High – a DUI field sobriety test on the track next to the wreckage of the two vehicles.  He was then arrested by Patrolman Chestnut and driven to the Manteca Police station for processing before being taken to the San Joaquin County Jail where he would be charged with manslaughter or murder.

It has been established that if a driver has been made aware that death is possible by drinking and driving the charge in a fatal DUI crash can be murder.

Students watched the arrival of the Sheriff’s coroner officers who checked the deceased and placed them in body bags for transportation to the morgue in French Camp.

Creating even more reality in the program, one young senior girl was transported to Doctors Hospital of Manteca where her parents were called to identify her in the emergency room. It is a part of the presentation that always seems all too real for parents.

Near the end of the program the REACH medical helicopter from the Stockton Airport circled the stadium and was waved off by emergency personnel due to heavy winds from the night’s storm.

At 9:30 a.m. today students will attend a dramatic funeral for the students who died that will involve motivational guest speakers who always give their audience a lot to consider in what their future could hold in the next few months.  Family members are urged to attend the event supported by Manteca’s P.L. Fry Mortuary.

Speaker Chris Stevens has gone into private practice after retiring from the Sheriff’s Department as a motivational speaker.  His firm’s name is Summit Solutions Consulting.