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Learning the sobering DUI truth: Death
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High school students act in the role of pallbearers as they bring one of the five caskets into the mock funeral Friday morning at the Christian Worship Center on Button Avenue. - photo by GLENN KAHL/The Bulletin

High school seniors did something Friday morning organizers of Every 15 Minutes are striving to make sure they ever have to do: Watch as parents buried sons and daughters who were classmates

The Every 15 Minute mock funeral at Manteca, Sierra, East Union, and Calla high schools was held at the Christian Worship Center after an all night retreat at the church on Button Avenue for the tightly knit group of students and advisors putting on the production in the sanctuary.

Former Manteca Police detective Linda Donaldson – now working with the schools’ Health Services – said the current group of students is the best she has been associated with over the years. She said they were courteous, attentive and willing to do whatever is asked of them.  She said she couldn’t have been more impressed.

A video of the Thursday crash scene compiled by Media Fusion was shown on large overhead televisions. It was geared to put the crowd into the heart of the DUI production as it dramatically depicted the first “golden hour” after the collision took place on the athletic field.  It is that golden hour that often determines if an injured motorist or passenger will live or die, according to Sgt. Stephen Schluer who served as the emcee for the Every 15 Minutes.

Students acted as pall bearers as they entered the church with five caskets representing those killed in an unfortunate drinking and driving crash that played out Thursday morning at the Manteca High School stadium before bleachers filled with students.

Pastor Joey Macias was critical of several students saying, “Think this is a joke? It’s not.  Once you are gone, you are gone.  I’m glad you are still here!” he said in a raised voice. 

He added that he recently had to bury a teenager and noted that there were 882 teens killed in DUI crashes in California just last year. Macias said it is not easy to officiate at a teen’s funeral and have to face the distraught family members – moms and dads take it awfully hard, he said.

“You don’t know the pain your mother, dad, sister and friends have to deal with when you die at a young age in a DUI crash,” he said.  “Listen Class of 2017, we love you.  I hope you make the right decisions when it comes to drinking and driving,” he said.

Superior Court Judge Tony Agbayani told the upperclassmen that he has been working the Every 15 Minute sessions for the past nine years. The judge and his wife have nine children – one was in the audience Friday morning.

Judge Agbayani explained his 1.8 second rule asking all the students in the audience to raise their right hands as if they were holding a set of car keys.  He asked them to run their hands as though they were starting a car. 

“That takes just 1.8 seconds to start the car,” he said.  “Likewise holding a TV remote takes 1.8 seconds to turn on the television with consequences in both cases.”

In the first case if the driver had been drinking he might be on his way to a fatal crash and in the second he could easily fall asleep and not get his home work done and suffer the consequences of making up his missed homework.  

He went on to recall two students who came to him with special requests.  The first was nicely dressed and telling of his dreams and wanting a summer job.  After a short interview, and being impressed, the judge offered him a job in his office where he worked all summer long.

The second young man was dressed in a red jump suit when he met the judge following a fatal DUI crash that he was responsible for the consequences.  He went to state prison for 15 years to life for his 1.8 second decision to drink and drive and on the same day the other youth — who went onto college  — had a short night out at Red Robin for a hamburger and then went home to bed. 

Judge Agbayani cautioned the juniors and seniors in his audience never to come before him, because he will follow the law and promised 15 year to life sentences times the number killed.  They often beg for mercy, for lenience, he noted but the families of the dead will never get their loved ones back into their families no matter how hard they beg.

East Union High School senior Jack Weaver and his Dad Mark both had their times at the microphone reading letters to each other – saying things of gratitude that they had never taken the time to address before.  It was difficult for both of them as they found it difficult to separate the staged presentation from real life and what could have been.

The mom of a 17-year-old East Union Senior, Kelly De La Rosa read a similar letter to daughter Lauryn telling her how crushed she was with her death in a DUI crash.  Her message was emotional and touched the assembled crowd and other parents in the church.  Many had their boxes of tissues and used them throughout the presentations