Staged accident teaches students a grim lesson
DUI program aimed at high schoolers
Chugiak student Janissa Arzie is taken to a waiting ambulance by members of the Chugiak Volunteer Fire Department. Arzie was one of several participants in the mock drunk driving accident who played the role of accident victims.
On the morning of April 25, Chugiak High students streamed out of their classrooms to witness a nightmare.
In the school’s parking lot sat two wrecked vehicles — one of which had a lifeless human sticking out from its front windshield. As hundreds of students watched in silence, the screams of their injured classmates could be heard coming from the two cars.
Fortunately for all involved, the grisly scene wasn’t real, but a presentation of the “Every 15 Minutes” program, which gives high school students a realistic look at the aftermath of a drunk driving accident.
“It’s basically to raise awareness to people as to the dangers of driving while intoxicated,” said Anchorage Police spokesman Lt. Dave Parker.
Parker said the program — which is supported in part by State Farm Insurance — is something the department tries to rotate to a different high school in the district each year.
“We’d like to see it in every school at least once,” Parker said.
During the performance on April 25, police and emergency vehicles responded to the scene as if an actual accident had taken place. The driver of the vehicle at fault — student Kayleigh Gilbert — was “arrested” at the scene for driving while intoxicated. In the imaginary wreck, Gilbert’s impaired driving caused the death of pedestrian John Mangrum and a passenger in another car, Kenzie Matthis. Mangrum’s body was removed from the wreckage and laid near the scene, where his mother, Jennifer Makhoul, was on hand to tearfully identify the body. Matthis was loaded into an ambulance and supposedly died later.
The following day, the entire Chugiak student body attended a mock memorial service (see sidebar) for the two dead students, and viewed a video that included a realistic courtroom sentencing for Gilbert complete with testimonials from Mangrum and Matthis’ parents in front of a real judge.
In the video, a shaken Jeff Matthis — Kenzie’s dad — shared a parent’s grief.
“One poor choice, you have taken Mackenzie’s choices away forever,” he told Gilbert.
The two-day program also included random visits from a “Grim Reaper,” who visited classrooms at the school and tapped students on the shoulder every 15 minutes. For the rest of the day, those students couldn’t speak to anyone as a way to illustrate the nation’s drunk driving fatality rate.
“About every 15 minutes, someone dies due to an [operating while intoxicated] accident,” Parker said.
Parker said the presentation is just part of what APD does to decrease impaired driving on Anchorage roads. He said the department is currently embarking on a “0 for ‘12” campaign that aims to have zero impaired driving fatalities in 2012. In addition to education programs, he said APD is relentless in its pursuit of drunk drivers.
“We’re very aggressive,” he said.
In 2001, Parker said 20 people died in OUI-related accidents. Last year, that figure had dropped to just three.
“We think the message is getting out,” he said.
Parker said the department wants people to know how much of a priority drunk driving enforcement is in the community.
“By gum, Anchorage is a very bad place to drive impaired,” he said.
The event was put on with the help of dozens of student and community volunteers. CHS junior Mariah Schiefer said she volunteered to help because she feels it’s important that students are aware of the consequences of their actions.
“I hope it opens people’s eyes to drinking and driving,” she said.
Contact Matt Tunseth at 694-2727 or firstname.lastname@example.org