The DUI Every 15 Minutes program was all too real for parents and students alike at Ripon Christian High School.
Senior James Lazette was mortally injured in last week’s staged event. He was transported to San Joaquin County Hospital in French Camp by ambulance where he later died. He had been in the back seat of a demolished car with a cut above his left ribs and one on his face. Firefighters used the Jaws of Life to remove him from the vehicle after asking the teen if he could move his arms and his legs – he said he couldn’t.
His parents Martha and Kevin told of the real life impact it had upon them when they were called to the hospital to identify their son in the emergency room covered with a sheet. They saw the painted-on injures and viewed the trauma to their son’s body. It was all too real, they said.
“You think you are ready for it,” Martha Lazette said, “but it was intense. They told me he didn’t make it, asking if we wanted to see him.”
His mother added that there was an additional impact when they went home that night – the first day of the two-day E-15 event.
“He didn’t come home – you see his truck parked at the house and you see his dog looking for him,” she said.
Every 15 Minutes requires the student actors to spend the night at school for a retreat in the library and to write their parents personal letters as though it was actually the end of their lives. Parents, too, wrote letters to their sons and daughters.
Erickson Brown who played the part of the drunken driver who set off the collision had his own thoughts on the DUI event.
“It impacted me more than I thought. It was so real and it affected so many people,” he noted. “I was thankful I got to do this. I feel it is going to take a little time to get back to my normal self. Your life can be taken so easily. I actually felt very alone and very responsible.”
Student Kyle Van Vuren was among the “living dead” in the program. He sat in the gym with his mother Linda and others involved in the scripted event at a follow up luncheon. He had spent time in the “graveyard” at the back of the school and watched the trauma unfold.
“It definitely affected me ‘cause I knew it could happen – to see people dead who I went to school with since kindergarten,” he said. “When I had to write letters to my mom and dad and brother, I thought a lot over it – all I wanted to say was that I loved them.”
He added, “I have letters from mom and dad. I haven’t read them yet. I need a little more preparation to read them – I’m exhausted.”
His mom, Linda Van Vuren said, “It was hard when you see kids you have seen grow up in the community dying – like they are your own children.”
Ripon Police Officer Trevor McGinnis – assigned to the community schools – said the whole school filled the audience to see it the crash results, unlike other Every 15 Minutes programs that are slated mostly as annual events. The smaller size of the Christian School allowed for the entire student body to take part.
McGinnis said that because Ripon Christian was not a public school, it was able to include prayer and Biblical quotations in the programmed funeral.
Making the deaths and responsibility even more real came from the mouths of two speakers the day after funeral in the gymnasium were Superior Court Judge Tony Agbayani and Mirko Kozina from the district attorney’s office. Both men are said to be gifted in getting across the dangers of drinking and driving to today’s teens. Agbayani stressed that a death resulting from a DUI conviction is second degree murder with a conviction bringing prison time in his court.
In addition to those involved in the crash, there were 26 students who made up the living dead during the E-15 Minutes program along with retired Sheriff’s Lieutenant and motivational speaker Lt. Chris Stevens who served as master of ceremonies.
The next Every 15 Minutes is planned for Thursday, April 24, and Friday, April 25, for the Manteca Unified School District. It will take place to in the Manteca High football stadium for upper class students from Manteca, Sierra and East Union high schools.