Capstone project challenges students to rethink driving under the influence

Winters Fire Department and first responders work to start up a chainsaw in order to open up the hood of a car to rescue a student during an improvised scenario. (Crystal Apilado/Winters Express)

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Winters High School students experienced an emotional journey last week as the “Every 15 Minutes” two-day program was revived on campus.

On Thursday, March 9, the rain poured down in sheets on students as they gathered around two vehicles near the baseball field. Each vehicle had WHS students who were role-playing a scenario representing the aftermath of an impaired driving-related accident. Winters first responders from Winters Police and Fire Departments worked alongside emergency personnel as they role-played their regular tasks of the realistic and tragic scene. The crash portrayed the injuries of the students in both cars. Senior John Lopez was chosen to represent an impaired driver and underwent the motions of a field sobriety test from a Winters Police officer before being arrested for driving under the influence of drugs.

The Grim Reaper was also on-site watching the scene, as well as guarding over the “living dead” students who had been collected from classrooms throughout the morning. As this is happening the families of the “living dead” received a visit from a TAGS (Trauma & Grief Support Program) volunteer and California Highway Patrol officer to notify them of their loved one’s death. By 2 p.m. that afternoon, 17 students had been collected by the Grim Reaper. The group stood solemnly by the accident scene.

Students regrouped on Friday, March 10 to view the WHS Every 15 Minutes video production. The video depicted from start to finish the events that led to the crash and the emotional and raw ripple effects afterward.

Seniors Paris Zaragoza and Alissa García faced multiple challenges to execute their Senior Capstone Project that almost didn’t happen. García shared their gratitude to Principal John Barsotti for “making a hard decision and trusting us with this extraordinary project.”

Zaragoza noted that while it was a stressful and exciting project to take on, it was worth it.

“While this program may seem intense and emotionally charged, it is incredibly effective at changing the way young people view driving under the influence. The program aims to create an emotional impact that will stay with participants for years to come, influencing their behavior and decisions making long after the program has ended. Participating in the Every 15 Minutes program can change your life by opening your eyes to the real consequences of driving under the influence,” Zaragoza said.

Lopez said he had never heard of the Every 15 Minutes program but he instantly agreed to participate as the “under the influence” driver because the program’s message is important.

He shared his experience of being cuffed, being processed in jail first-hand, and sitting through the court system. He advised his peers that they did not want to “get cuffed because it is not comfortable at all.”

Featured speakers included Kate Sherfey of Mothers Against Drunk Driving who shared about the night her mother was killed by a drunk driver. She noted to students that when she refers to the incident she will never refer to it as an accident because it was “100 percent the choice” someone made to get behind the wheel drunk and to drive and that she will always refer to it as a “crash.”

Winters Police Sergeant Jose Hermosillo shared about the intense and detailed DUI training that police officers endure to prepare and about the investigation process of impaired driving crashes and drivers who are under the influence. Gustavo Figueroa of the Yolo County District Attorney’s office shared about the different consequences for impaired drivers and what his role is in processing the cases.

“In my opinion, DUIs are the easiest crime to avoid. None of you should be drinking alcohol right now, but in the event that you are drunk at a party or are high, it’s a very easy decision to not get behind the wheel — It’s a very avoidable crime,” Figueroa said.

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