Kenny Dougherty knew better than to drink shots of vodka with his friend Nick Boomhower. After all, hadn’t he always been taught that you don’t drink and drive? But it was prom night and you only live once.
After getting their dates, Kenny took off speeding down Stow Street in Simi Valley and ended the run in a head-on collision with another car. Sarah Baxter, 18, was dead at the scene. Nick, 18, would later die at Simi Valley Hospital. And Kenny, when he sobered up enough to be aware, found himself in jail, facing criminal charges that could send him to prison for many years.
No, this did not really happen. But it could have, because the students at Simi Valley High School worked hard to create the illusion of a drunk driving accident as part of the annual Every 15 Minutes program on April 8 and 9.
“It’s a really good program,” said Madisen Richards, 17. “It gives you a whole new outlook on the subject.”
Sponsored through grants and donations of time, money and materials from numerous local agencies, businesses and organizations, Every 15 Minutes seeks to teach teens real life consequences of driving under the influence without the real life trauma.
In Simi Valley, Royal High School and Simi Valley High School alternate the production of Every 15 Minutes each year. At each school, all juniors and seniors participate in the two-day program, ensuring that every student at the two schools is reached during their high school years.
Students are nominated to participate in the program, and their participation is kept secret until the event begins with an announcement over the school’s loudspeaker that every 15 minutes in the U.S. someone dies in a drunk driving related accident. Then, the “deaths” of the participating students are announced every 15 minutes. The effect on the entire campus is somber and chilling.
Sixteen Simi High students participated in this year’s program. But Every 15 Minutes is not just contained to the students and campus. Every participating student’s family is integrated into the program, creating a powerful circle of tragic experience through the recreation of the accident, arrest, hospital scene, court case and funeral.
For instance, while participating students were being made up for their roles by students from the Simi Valley Cosmetology School, police and police chaplains drove around the city notifying families of their child’s “death.”
Even though each family knew that the accident wasn’t real, the impact of opening their front doors on what should have been a normal morning only to be faced with their lives never being the same again, was emotional and sad.
Families also wrote good-bye letters to their children, which the students read on the night after the crash recreation during an overnight retreat. Students also wrote their own good-bye letters to their families and friends.
On Day Two, an assembly brought together the participants, families and Simi High’s juniors and seniors in the school’s gym. Students tearfully read their good-bye letters and listened to the guest speaker, Corey Reed, share about his own DUI accident in 2005.
A Royal High School graduate in 2001, Reed played it straight while in school. But in the years following graduation, his partying—drinking, drugging and recklessness—became excessive.
On the night of his life-changing accident, his friend was driving into Simi from a club. Both young men were drunk and after reaching speeds up to 101 mph, the Chevy Tahoe they were in crashed into some trees on Sequoia Avenue. Corey lost his right leg and his eyesight in the accident. He was 23 years old. His friend landed in jail.
“We were both victims of our lifestyle choices we made that night,” Reed said.
A SPECIAL THANK YOU TO THE FOLLOWING PEOPLE AND ORGANIZATIONS WHO HELPED TO MAKE THIS YEAR’S EVERY 15 MINUTES A SUCCESS:
- Simi Valley High School PTSA
- California Highway Patrol
- Simi Valley Police Department
- Ventura County Fire Department
- American Medical Response
- Simi Valley Hospital & Healthcare Services
- Dave’s Towing
- Reardon Simi Valley Funeral Home
- Ventura County Superior Court
- Best Western Posada Royale
- Simi Valley Police Foundation
- Simi Valley Education Foundation
- Rotary Club of Simi Sunset
- Rotary Club of Simi Valley
- Kopy King
- Rancho Simi Recreation & Parks District
- O’Connor Brothers Photography
- SVHS students, faculty and staff
- Dave High Ink
- Robert Arabian
- Corey Reed
- Susan Cohen
FOR MORE INFORMATION ON EVERY 15 MINUTES, SEE LINKS BELOW:
Video of crash and assembly:
Every 15 Minutes-National website:
As covered by the Ventura County Star: