At approximately 11:30 a.m. Thursday in front of Saugus High School, four students sat in crashed cars to simulate the ramifications of drunken driving, during the two-day “Every 15 Minutes” program funded by the California Office of Traffic Safety and organized by the California Highway Patrol.
About 1,200 juniors and seniors watched as law enforcement staged a sobriety test on Carson Messick, then apprehended him for drunken driving, while his passenger Sarah Nigra was placed into an ambulance, where she would be pronounced dead at the hospital.
The two students in the other car, Rick Hand and Jared Zimmerman, were pronounced dead on arrival and were put into a coroner’s van after first responders used saws and the jaws of life to remove them from the car.
“We’re trying to incite your emotions,” Vince Ferry, Saugus High School principal, said to the students watching. “I am very aware that a lot of things you’re learning in the classroom today you will not remember a year from now. I’m hoping the one thing you’re going to take away from your experience at Saugus High School is what we provided here today.”
Along with the four students in the cars, 14 students were removed from classrooms from 7:25 to 10:35 a.m. to act as the “walking dead,” which represented how youth are killed due to alcohol-related accidents every 15 minutes.
“It’s important for these kids to see what happens in real life,” said CHP officer Josh Greenguard. “They have some, but not a lot of life experience behind them. It’s important for them to see what can happen if you get behind the wheel intoxicated.”
Emotional students and parents gathered around the scene hoping this program will have an impact on the youth.
In the crowd stood Debi and Ched Nigra, parents of Sarah. “I hope this opens up students’ eyes,” said Debi. “Life is short and you can’t make a stupid mistake like this.”
As a part of the program, the four students and the “walking dead” were unable to have contact with their parents until the next morning.
One of the students involved in the simulated car crash said he was unsure about participating when first asked.
“I’m doing this to help raise awareness,” Zimmerman said. “I hope people learn the lesson that drunk driving is not safe and it can cause a lot of problems.”
Abi Hawthorn’s friend was among those who simulated death. “I just wanted to text her, but I knew I couldn’t,” she said.
After the car crash simulation ended, students were taken over to the courthouse to watch where Messick would be charged with driving under the influence in a show trial to portray the severity of driving intoxicated.
Students were also taken to the hospital to witness the moment parents are informed about their children’s deaths.
Andrew Shean, a Saugus High junior, said his father works in law enforcement, and he’s seen how these situations take a toll on first responders.
“My dad sees people my age die in situations like this,” said Shean. “I hope this sheds light on students about drug and alcohol problems.”
The program continues today with an assembly. A video of the simulation made by Saugus High students will be shown along with drug and alcoholism resources.
“I’m hoping you take time to reflect,” Ferry said to students. “I’m hoping you will take time to have a conversation with your parents and your friends on what you will do to prevent this simulation from becoming a reality for you.”
— By Raychel Stewart, For The Signal