A timely reminder about the perils of drinking and driving

By Greg Hardesty

The impact of the head-on crash sent the female passenger hurtling through the windshield of the white Toyota Tercel.

She died at the scene.

The injurer driver of the black Oldsmobile Intrigue was whisked away in an ambulance, but died at the hospital.

Two dead teens, two injured teens — including the drunk driver who caused it all.

Students from Esperanza High School observe and participate in a program where a drunk driving related fatal car collision is staged in front of the school by Anaheim police and fire departments.

Esperanza High student Michaela Lee portrays a deceased passenger who went through the windshield as other students playing the “living dead” stand behind the car during a staged drunk-driving related car crash in front of Esperanza High School. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

This grim scenario played out before about 900 juniors and seniors at Esperanza High School in Anaheim earlier this week — a sobering reminder, with the holiday season in full swing, about the dangers of impaired driving or texting while driving.

Anaheim Fire & Rescue and Anaheim Police Department personnel participated in the realistically staged aftermath of the fatal accident — a real-time re-enactment that hushed the throng of students for more than 30 minutes and drove some to tears.

“If this can help even one kid make a smart decision, then we’ve done our job,” said Meghann Lukach, activities director at Esperanza High, which participates in the “Every 15 Minutes” program every two to three years.

Students from Esperanza High School observe and participate in a program where a drunk driving related fatal car collision is staged in front of the school by Anaheim police and fire departments.

Anaheim Fire Captain Ryan Herr places a deceased tag on Esperanza High student Michaela Lee during an “Every 15 Minutes” program Nov. 24. Photo by Steven Georges.

In 2013, the most recent year in which complete statistics are available, 200 people in Orange County died in accidents involving vehicles, according to the Orange County Coroner. A breakdown of how many teenagers died in drunk-driving crashes was not immediately available.

But statewide, nearly 30 percent of all traffic deaths in 2012 involved a drunk driver, according to MADD.

The “Every 15 Minutes” program is elaborate and vivid, with makeup artists creating garish-looking injuries to the students who portray the injured and dead in the mock crash.

Students from Esperanza High School observe and participate in a program where a drunk driving related fatal car collision is staged in front of the school by Anaheim police and fire departments.

Mortuary representatives remove drunk-driving victim Michaela Lee from the staged scene. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

The morning at Esperanza High began with a person dressed as the Grim Reaper plucking students out of class every 15 minutes — students who became the “living dead” in white face makeup who did not speak or interact with other students for the rest of the school day.

During the simulated aftermath of the traffic accident, firefighters extricated the injured, coroner officials removed the dead female and a cop investigated, arrested and booked the drunk driver.

The Esperanza students who participated in the “Every 15 Minutes” program spent the night in a local hotel to simulate being separated from friends and family.

Students from Esperanza High School observe and participate in a program where a drunk driving related fatal car collision is staged in front of the school by Anaheim police and fire departments.

Esperanza High students portraying the “living dead” hold black carnations as they watch the drama unfold. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

The next day, at a school assembly, students and parents read heart-wrenching letters they were assigned to write about what it was like to die so young — and what it was like to lose a child.

Rakahn Haddadin, 17, a senior, portrayed one of the “living dead” in the “Every 15 Minutes” program Nov. 24.

“Drinking and driving is dangerous, and when it’s a friend or someone you know (who dies or is injured), hopefully you’ll think twice about doing it,” Haddadin said.

Students from Esperanza High School observe and participate in a program where a drunk driving related fatal car collision is staged in front of the school by Anaheim police and fire departments.

Brett Mullins portrays a drunk driver being arrested by Anaheim Police Officer Tom Poer at a staged fatal car crash in front of Esperanza High School. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Meghan Merlihan played the surviving passenger in the black Oldsmobile. She said the mood was light when she and other participants were being made up to look injured.

“But when you come out here and see the damaged cars,” Merlihan said, “it all becomes real. I saw lots of people crying.”

In the photo at the top of this story, Anaheim Fire Captain Ryan Herr walks through a staged drunk-driving related car crash in front of Esperanza High School as students watch the realistic program unfold. Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC