Juniors and seniors at Chelsea High School are looking forward to prom next weekend. But, school officials are hoping that a program called Every 15 Minutes provided enough realism to discourage them from drinking or being distracted while behind the wheel on prom night or any other night. The emotionally-charged program, held April 16-17, is designed to dramatically illustrate the potentially dangerous consequences of impaired and distracted driving. The national program has shown to be an innovative way for children to learn about the dangers of drinking and distracted driving, and is being used in many schools across the nation.
The program was presented to students in the form of a simulated vehicle crash involving a drunk driver. The two-day event began on the first day with the “Grim Reaper” walking into classes every 15 minutes to call pre-selected juniors and seniors out of class. A deputy sheriff immediately entered the classroom with a chaplain to read an obituary explaining the circumstances of their classmate’s demise and the contributions the student has made to the school and the community. A few minutes later, the students returned to class as the “living dead,” complete with white face make-up, a coroner’s tag, and a black T-shirt. From that point on, “living dead” victims did not speak to or interact with other students for the remainder of the school day.
A simulated traffic accident occurred on the football field later that afternoon. Because of rain and lightning conditions on Thursday afternoon, students could not attend the accident scene and view it as it was taking place. Instead, it was filmed and footage was shown to the students on Friday morning.
Students sat silently as they viewed scenes of rescue workers treating injured student participants. One student “fatality” was Suzannah (Suzi) Walton, who was sitting in the back passenger side of the crushed vehicle. Rescue workers covered her with a sheet until they could remove her from the wreckage. Her mother was then escorted over to her draped body to make a positive identification.
Justin Abercrombie was another student “fatality” of the accident. He was cut out of the wreckage by the Jaws of Life and transported by ambulance to Trinity Medical Center for treatment. While at the hospital, the students were treated by the medical staff just as if they were real accident victims. Abercrombie said the experience was surreal, especially when he was pronounced dead.
“They noted the time of death,” Abercrombie said. “That was really strange.”
Students learned on Friday that Abercrombie died at the hospital. Joe Nichols, another student who was transported to the hospital, was left “paralyzed” from the accident.
The student “drunk driver” was portrayed by fellow student Daniel Fraumfelder, who in real life is an honors student who plans to attend UAB and seek his doctorate degree in Physical Therapy. He was chosen specifically for the role by school administrators because he is a leader at Chelsea High School and they wanted to show that even good, responsible students can make one bad choice that has life-altering consequences – not only for them, but for others.
He and his fellow passengers escaped serious injuries in the crash, but he couldn’t escape the consequences of his actions. He was given a field sobriety test at the scene and was eventually arrested by a Shelby County Sheriff’s deputy. Fraumfielder continued his experience with an actual trip to the Juvenile Detention, where he was processed for Driving Under the Influence of alcohol. The following day, Fraumfielder and his parents participated in a mock trial at the law office of Boardman, Carr, Bennett, Watkins, Hill and Gamble in Chelsea, where he was “convicted” of two counts of vehicular homicide.
Fraumfielder said the experience was a huge eye-opener for him about how drastic the consequences can be from making a bad decision while behind the wheel.
“The whole experience was incredible,” he said. “Going to juvenile detention in handcuffs, and having to go through the mock trial was a very humbling experience. It is something that I can’t even begin to imagine going through in real life.”
A mock “funeral” was held in the school’s auditorium Friday afternoon for Abercrombie and Walton, complete with caskets on the stage and funeral programs listing their birth and death dates. Students sat solemnly while an audio recording played of the two students discussing what they most regretted about dying young, particularly the events they would never get to experience and the pain of watching their parents deal with their deaths. Both of the student’s mothers also spoke at the funeral and shared in heart wrenching detail the pain they were both experiencing from “losing” their children.
Abercrombie and Walton watched their own funerals from the production booth in the back of the auditorium and said the experience was surreal and very sad.
Walton said the experience of having her mother have to identify her both at the scene and to see her pain at the funeral was hard.
“Hearing her tell about the things she wished we had been able to do, the time that she wished we had spent together, that was extremely hard,” Walton said.
The students were most impacted by the testimony of Chelsea Middle School teacher Julie Yeager, whose daughter Hannah Yeager was killed in November 2006 when the vehicle she was riding in collided with a train.
“I want to make one thing very clear,” Yeager tearfully told some of her own former students. “Drugs or alcohol did not play a part in Hannah’s accident. But, do I believe that her accident was caused because the driver might have been distracted by the other five teenagers who were in the vehicle with him? Absolutely, yes.”
Approximately 20 public service agencies and business were involved in the project. The Shelby County Sheriff’s Office and Chelsea Fire and Rescue coordinated the event.
The entire presentation was videotaped by student videographers at Chelsea High School. The finished video will be shown to all students at Chelsea High on Monday.