The scene on Brookside Avenue on the morning of April 23, was chilling.
Right down the hill from the campus of Beaumont High School was the wreckage of two cars – a red, four door sedan and a green, four-door sedan.
High school students in prom attire were in the cars, bleeding from major injuries, or lying in the street motionless.
Fortunately, it wasn’t a real accident. It was staged as part of the “Every 15 Minutes’’ program presented by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration’s Office of Traffic Safety.
The name comes from the fact that every 15 minutes, someone in the United States dies in an alcohol-related traffic collision.
The program began in 1995 through the Chico Police Department.
Beaumont’s re-enactment is one of three presented this year in the San Gorgonio Pass Area, said Darren Meyer, CHP spokesperson.
Along with Beaumont, the program was presented at Tahquitz High School and West Valley High School in Hemet.
“Each high school is eligible for the mini-grant every other year,” Meyer said.
The mini-grant is $10,000 and covers the cost of video production, a retreat and make up, among other costs incurred by the school.
Last Thursday, 1,000 juniors and seniors gathered in the bleachers on Brookside Avenue, west of Beaumont Avenue, along with staff and administrators from the Beaumont Unified School District and parents of BHS students.
The Beaumont Police Department closed down Brookside from Beaumont Avenue to the beginning of Brookside Elementary School.
Meyer said that numerous agencies were involved in the re-enactment including California Highway Patrol, American Medical Response, Beaumont Fire Department, CalFire, Beaumont Police Department, Riverside County Coroner’s Department and the CHP helicopter, along with volunteers from the Beaumont police department to handle traffic control.
Juniors and seniors from Beaumont High School played the students returning from prom when the accident happened on Brookside Avenue. They included: Taylor Smith, Marissa Knowles, Arwen Camino, Levi Sanchez, Evan Lara, Josh Bayardo, Marissa Granados and Grace Frazier.
Students Daniel Ramos and Natalie Rojas did the make-up for the actors. ramos also coordinated the program.
The students, some of whom are involved in ASB, did not rehearse the accident scene before it was re-enacted Thursday morning.
As the scene opened at 10:30 a.m., dispatchers could be heard contacting CalFire and Beaumont Police to respond to Brookside Avenue.
Officer Brent Conan walks toward the cars as the dispatcher gives an initial report of five injured. Conan checked on each of the students in the two cars.
One of the students, Levi, staggers out of the green car, wanting to check on one of the girls in the back seat. Officer Conan helps him back into the car.
The fire truck arrives and fire personnel and Conan check on Taylor, who is lying on the ground in her long prom dress.
“I didn’t feel any pulse on her,” Conan said to the fireman.
The dispatcher is heard updating the report, saying there are six patients, with one ejection and two possible DOA’s.
The officer then checks on Marissa, asking her where it hurts. She said her arm and back hurts and Conan asks if she was wearing her seatbelt.
Then he asks Arwen how many students were in the car and if he had any pain.
In the front seat of the green car was Evan, with a head injury and unconscious.
Arwen said they were on their way to the prom and had been drinking. He was asked by Conan about whose car they were driving and if he has ever been in a car accident.
Conan said a field sobriety test needed to be done and that Brookside Avenue would have to be closed down.
Another fire truck and ambulance pull up.
Conan continues to ask Arwen about the speed at which he was driving, whether he could walk and when was the last time he had something to drink.
The fire department drilled off the car door and also used the jaws of life to extricate one of the students from the car.
Officer Conan continued to question Arwen about whether his mother was home and if she knew he had been drinking and driving.
The CHP helicopter could be seen overhead, flying toward the accident scene.
An oxygen mask was placed over Evan’s face and Arwen was given the field sobriety test.
The CHP helicopter pilot was given word that their services weren’t needed after they circled several times over the area.
Several more students were removed from the cars while others were placed on stretchers.
Arwen failed the field sobriety test and the breathalyzer test and was subsequently arrested by Officer Conan for DUI. His blood alcohol level was three times the legal limit.
Taylor, one of the students who died, was taken away by the coroner.
At the end, Meyer told the juniors and seniors that “Everything, other than the students, was absolutely real’’ about what the CHP does every day.
“Hopefully, you’ll never be this close to it,” said Meyer.
The students and several parents had previously filmed scenes at San Gorgonio Memorial Hospital, the courthouse and the Beaumont Police Department.
Beaumont High School assistant principal Matt Centofranchi said the whole presentation was improvised.
“We didn’t script anything because we wanted it to be natural,” he said.
Props Production filmed the 25-minute video, which is on the Beaumont High School and District’s Web site.
Another part of the program on Thursday morning involved 25 students being taken out of class as the “living dead.” The Grim Reaper and a police officer read the student’s obituary before they were taken away.
“They didn’t know who was going to be chosen,” said Centofranchi.
The students had to carry around a tombstone and couldn’t talk to anyone or contact anyone until after the assembly on Friday morning.
A retreat was held Thursday night at Apple Canyon in Idyllwild for the students, chaperones, Centofranchi and assistant principal Antoinette Gutierrez to promote team building. The students who passed away had to write letters to their parents.
The assembly featured guest speakers who have been affected by drunk drivers, 911 dispatchers and a funeral service for the students, said Centofranchi.
The accident scene re-enactment really affected the students who observed it and were part of the presentation.
Ireland Jackson, 17, an observer, said that the program was very realistic, seeing that students died and that it could really happen.
“It could be our peers,” Ireland said.
Courtney Hogate, 17, another observer, also echoed her friend’s sentiments.
“People don’t realize how serious it is,” said Courtney.
The presentation was very real for the student actors.
Taylor Smith, 18, a senior, was one of the students who died at the accident scene.
She had to remain motionless for almost an hour on Brookside Avenue.
“As I was lying there, it really hit me,” said Taylor.
She said she thought about what would have happened in real life – that her parents would have thought she was at her prom when she died in a car accident.
Marissa Knowles, 17, a senior, was placed where the window would have been, with her head and arms spread on top of the trunk of the green sedan.
A very important message was being sent to Beaumont High School juniors and seniors , said Marissa.
“Pretty much to make sure everybody is sober and to not drink and drive,” she said.
Arwen Camino, 18, a senior, said he realized the importance of his role as the drunk driver.
He had to film scenes being booked at the Beaumont Police Department and appearing in court. It really hit home to him when the officer put the handcuffs on him at the accident scene.
“It’s a really personal experience,” said Arwen. “I feel like I can speak to others now.”
Staff writer Julie Farren may be reached at (951) 849-4586 ext. 119 or email@example.com.