Not to mention a film crew, police and fire officials, and two very concerned members of Mountain View High School's Associated Student Body. Sophomores Kelly Vroom and Sofia Biros, gave directions and reminded their peers not to laugh. In order for the scene to have the proper impact, they would all need to play it straight.
The group of about 30 students, teachers and emergency response professionals — including firefighters, police and paramedics — were all just half an hour away from the beginning of an assembly aimed at driving home the grave the consequences of drinking and driving.
The production, held at 11:30 a.m. on April 17, on the high school football field, was put together in partnership with Every 15 Minutes, a California Highway Patrol-run program that works with high schools around the state. According to the CHP website, the program focuses on juniors and seniors, challenging them to "think about drinking, driving ... and the impact their decisions have on family, friends, and many others."
Students were positioned in cars to appear as if they had died in a drunken wreck. One girl lay face-down on the field — a beer bottle in her hand, as a makeup artists meticulously applied fake brains to her head. Soon, the entire MVHS student body would be in the bleachers watching as the potential consequences of drinking and driving were spelled out in gory detail on Carl Anderson Field.
Some students cracked jokes and laughed with one another as they took their positions, and Biros even smiled from time to time. But while Biros found occasion to grin, she said she finds nothing funny about the scene.
"I really hope the students realize how serious drinking and driving can be," the sophomore said. Though her life has never been directly impacted by such a tragedy, she said the subject is important to her. "I know a lot of people who think it's OK to drive under the influence, and I really want to show them that this is what happens and we want those kids to be able to have a future."
The Every 15 Minutes program, along with changing societal mores, have an impact, according to Arturo Montiel, public information officer for the Redwood City CHP office. In 1995, statistics showed that every 15 minutes someone would die in the U.S. as the result of a drunken driving accident. That number has come down, with current statistical breakdowns showing that every 53 minutes someone is killed.
Virginia Jones, an administrative officer with American Medical Response of Napa County, has worked on Every 15 Minutes events for 10 years. She acknowledged that the number of DUI-related events has dropped, but said there is much work to be done. "We're getting better, but it's not good enough," she said.
Jones believes that the program contributes to the reduction in teens getting behind the wheel impaired. Another factor, she noted, is that it is not as socially acceptable to drink and drive as it was in the 1990s.
The planning period leading up to the April 17 event was initiated by Vroom, secretary of the MVHS Associated Student Body. Vroom told the Voice that the event was very personal to her. When she was a young girl, a friend and fellow basketball teammate was killed in a drinking-related accident.
Though the details of the memory are sparse, she remembers thinking that it simply "wasn't fair."
Last year, when Vroom found out about the program, she pushed her teachers and school administrators to bring Every 15 Minutes to MVHS.
The day after the mock crash, April 18, students were shown video of what might happen in the aftermath of such a tragic event. During this mock funeral and memorial service students were shown footage taken by the Every 15 Minutes camera crews, who followed officers as they went to the homes of students, knocked on the door and told the teens' parents that their children had been "killed."
Biros called the second day of the program "a very powerful and solemn experience."
Indeed, though Montiel and Jones acknowledged that some teens laugh during the mock accident portion of the program, Montiel said that when it comes to watching the parents' reactions — even though the parents know their children really aren't dead — things change. "When the kids see the parents' reactions," he said, "you can hear a pin drop."
Barry Groves, superintendent of the Mountain View-Los Altos Union High School District said he thought the Every 15 Minutes production was very well done.
"I thought it was an intense and important thing to do for the district," Groves said. "The message that we give to not drink and drive is something that we can't say enough of."
Groves was also pleased that the event was initiated by Vroom and Biros — which he said might just give the presentation an added feeling of legitimacy for the students. "Having an adult stand up in front of a class and say, 'Don't drink and drive,' is not as effective as a program like this," he said.
Jones said she was also pleased with the result. The program takes about eight months to produce, she said. And according to Biros more than 20 donors donated a "tremendous amount of time and money to our cause."
"It doesn't change everybody," Jones said. "But if we can save one life we've done our jobs."