The 911 call alerted emergency services of the accident.
Clovis Police and Clovis Fire Department crews arrived shortly after to assess the scene. Two high school students were questioned by police and given field sobriety tests. Two other students had to be freed from their vehicle by a fire crew. A SkyLife helicopter landed to fly the pair of injured students away for urgent medical attention.
Another student was placed in a body bag and loaded into a van.
Despite the sirens, heavy police and fire crew presence, no real accident or emergency had actually taken place.
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The staged fatal drunk driving incident, witnessed by students at Clovis East High School, is part of the California Highway Patrol’s Every 15 Minutes program, which is designed to educate young people on the dangers of driving under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol.
From 8:30 a.m. until 1 p.m., Thursday, April 14, Leonard Avenue between Gettysburg and Ashlan avenues was blocked off so various agencies could set up the faux crash.
Clovis PD, CHP, Clovis Fire Department, Fresno County Coroner’s Office, American Ambulance, two trucks from Action Towing and two Grim Reapers were present for the event.
According to the Every 15 Minutes program, every 15 minutes someone dies in a drug- or alcohol-related automotive incident.
“This happens on a regular basis. Even in your own backyard,” said CHP public information officer Axel Reyes.
Students and teachers were brought out to the east side of Clovis East’s campus to watch as volunteer Clovis East students enacted what happens after a deadly crash. The two pre-crashed vehicles had been set up earlier in the day while students were inside their classrooms.
Clovis East student Ryan Odom was given the role of playing dead for the scene. Odom’s head and arm were coated in fake blood. Coroner officials put Odom in a body bag and loaded his “corpse” into the van while two Grim Reapers stood watch.
According to Reyes, the theatrical reenactment is a necessary illustration to young minds that fatal accidents are realities across the country — not just on TV.
“I’ve been doing this since 2002 and, in my experience, the message gets across,” Reyes said. “People come up to me and they say they still remember when we came to their school. This is about being responsible. Drinking and driving is a huge occurrence.”
Clovis Police Cpl. John Weaver echoes Reyes’ enthusiasm for the program and hopes students will take the lesson one step further.
“The whole goal is to teach the hazards of drinking and driving, and because these students are underage, we teach them the consequences. Kids all think they’re OK to drive after a drink, but we’ve had situations that end in tragedy,” Weaver said. “I hope they take the message home to their parents, too. Parents sometimes think they are OK to drive after drinking. If there was a way to do this for adults, we would do it. We’re relying on the kids to be spokespersons.”
Every 15 Minutes is funded by a grant from the California Office of Traffic Safety, which allows all of the major agencies and offices in the area to provide an authentic-feeling experience for students, according to Clovis PD spokeswoman Janet Stoll-Lee.
“We do all of the schools in Clovis, like Clovis High and Buchanan. We plan it as we go … we work together with the CHP. It’s different for each school, depending on the layout,” Stoll-Lee said.
The addition of the SkyLife helicopter to the reenactment is fairly recent, according to Weaver, but the availability depends on factors such as landing space and weather conditions.
“The helicopter wasn’t feasible years ago,” Weaver said. “Other schools that can’t have it land [onsite] have it circle overhead. We try to make it the best program available for that student body. We try to better it with each school.”
The assembly lasted from 11 a.m. until just after noon, which is similar to how long it takes crews to finish cleaning up an actual accident.
Eric Connors, firefighter with Clovis Fire Engine 44, said each accident scene is unique and requires help from emergency crews like the fire department even when there is not a fire involved.
“Oftentimes, we can get there quicker than the ambulance because the fire department is strategically located throughout the city. Our goal is five minutes or less, 95 percent of the time,” Connors said. “We try to stabilize the scene, slow down brain death and respond with the ambulance.”
For Connors, the Clovis East event was particularly eventful because it was his first time participating in the Every 15 Minutes program.
“It hit home with me. You know you’re role-playing, but the situation and the gravity is phenomenal. Students seeing their own friends [in an accident] is powerful. I wish I had done it sooner,” he said.
If involved in an accident, Connors recommends people turn off their car and/or put it in park, because some folks mistakenly assume a vehicle cannot move after being smashed. Hazard lights are also an easy way to alert others surrounding the area to be cautious.
“If people in accidents can move to the side and out of the way, that’s great. Just try to stabilize the scene. No scene is the same, so it’s difficult to give advice for every situation,” Connors said.
Clovis PD and CHP recognize that teen drinking is difficult to stop, and urge students to find sober drivers, get an Uber or Lyft ride or call parents to pick them up if they have been drinking rather than try to drive while intoxicated.
“Parents would rather be upset for one day if you call to be picked up after drinking,” Weaver said, “than upset for a lifetime if you’ve been killed in an accident.”