San Joaquin County Superior Court Judge Tony Agbayani’s message to high school seniors as graduation season approaches couldn’t have been more crystal clear.
Don’t let a snap judgement determine the rest of our life.
During an emotional, tear-filled assembly to culminate the Manteca Every 15 Minutes program at the Christian Worship Center on Friday morning, Agbayani donned his robe as he gave real-world advice to students who may be faced with the prospect of climbing behind the wheel after they have had been drinking – detailing how as a judge, it doesn’t matter whether it was just a mistake or not.
Recounting a story of a client during his defense attorney career that was sentenced to 15-years-to-life for second degree murder when at 19-years-old she killed somebody while driving drunk, Agabayani said that he thought at the time that the judge was heartless, but has since learned that sentencing guidelines were painstakingly specific.
“If you drink and drive and kill somebody and get convicted of second-degree murder, you take my choice away – I have to sentence you to 15-years-to-life,” Agbayani said. “I sentence gang members and people who rob people and people who commit terrible acts, and I don’t lose a wink of sleep when I do that.
“But when I sentence somebody that young to life because of something like that, I don’t sleep at all – I just took their whole life away because they made a bad choice.”
More than 1,100 seniors from each of the high schools inside of Manteca’s city limits – Manteca, East Union, Sierra, Calla, and be.Tech – were on hand for the assembly, in addition to 72 students that were tapped to participate as the “living dead.”
The “living dead” students were pulled from class Thursday to symbolize the loss of friends and peers to alcohol-related accidents, and all were present at the “crash site” at Manteca High School that reinforced what can happen when young people choose to get behind the wheel of a car when they’ve been drinking.
And for Manteca Police Department Lieutenant and Manteca Unified Board President Stephen Schluer – who is also the Chairman of the Every 15 Minutes Committee – the event is an opportunity to reach some of those students and potentially change lives for the better.
Citing the adage of comedian Michael Jr., Schluer said that while the “what” for the particular event is very specific, the “why” it happens is unique for every individual person – something that he hopes will end up meaning at least one more young person will think twice before climbing behind the wheel while intoxicated.
“The ‘what’ here is the education of seniors – showing them the dangers of drinking and driving and the impacts that such a decision can have,” Schluer said. “The why is different every person that is involved, but for me it’s about having a passion for kids and trying to focus that attention down to making sure that they make the right decisions.
“That’s what this is about – making the right decision and knowing what could happen if you don’t.”
The two-day event takes months of planning – the committee that organizes it holds a crab feed every year to help raise money to make the program possible – and logistics, and relies of a number of different public agencies including the California Highway Patrol, the California Office of Traffic Safety, the Manteca Police Department, the Manteca Fire Department, Manteca District Ambulance, the Lathrop Manteca Fire District, the Manteca Unified School District, the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office, San Joaquin General Hospital, San Joaquin County Superior Courts, the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s office, and Air Reach.
Additional support and sponsorship was provided by the Manteca Police Chiefs Foundation, Sunrise Kiwanis, Soroptimist International of Manteca, Fagundes, Jamba Juice, Texas Roadhouse, Calvary Community Church, Multi-Color Processing, SSJID, Elite Entertainment and UleVideo, L. Haworth, Christian Worship Center, Wine Group, Simplot, Raymus Homes, and P.L. Fry and Son Funeral Services.
To contact reporter Jason Campbell email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 209.249.3544.