'Evry 15 Minutes'

Rogue River High School puts on realistic depiction of a serious accident caused by a drunk driver
Rogue River High School students participate in the "Evry 15 Minutes" program. Mail Tribune / Jamie LuschJamie Lusch

With her body thrown through the windshield of a white drop-top convertible Thursday, Willow Rose's hair and clothing were drenched in blood.

Rose died on impact when an intoxicated classmate caused a horrendous crash. Two other classmates in another car drifted in and out of consciousness, still alive but badly injured. They had been busy looking at a cellphone when the intoxicated driver hit them.

Fortunately for Rose and her classmates, this was only a simulation carried out on the Rogue River High School athletic field Thursday. But the message was all too real about the dangers of drinking and driving and texting and driving.

"This shows the kids that they're not invincible," said Melissa Willis, a volunteer firefighter and emergency medical technician for the Rogue River Fire Department who organized the simulation. "It's something for them to think about for the rest of their lives."

Willis had a similar event at her own high school in Huntington Beach, Calif., and wanted to replicate it here.

Rebecca Gordon, who played the classmate who caused the crash, was then asked to take field sobriety tests by a Jackson County sheriff's deputy.

"I think this is a good idea for me to do it, because a lot of people consider me a person who makes good decisions," said Gordon, 18, before the event began.

Gordon said when she was 12, her parents were hit by a drunken driver. A friend died, and though Gordon's parents lived, they were left with permanent injuries.

"This could happen to anyone," she said, pouring the last touches of fake blood on Rose.

After the entire student body piled into the bleacher seats to watch the aftermath of the crash, they listened to a dispatcher — Willis — call law enforcement to the scene. Two sheriff's vehicles, a fire engine and an ambulance responded, all using their lights and sirens to make the event realistic. Personnel from the Sheriff's Department, Jackson County Search and Rescue, Rogue River Fire District No. 1, Mercy Flights and Evans Valley Fire District No. 6 participated.

The firefighters jumped from their vehicles and turned their attention to a small hatchback with two other students trapped inside.

Terry Schmidt and Dennis Rideout, both RRHS seniors, were pulled from the car by firefighters, who cut through the metal of the vehicle and ripped off the car's roof.

Both boys said they knew friends who drank alcohol and then drove, and don't believe the friends understand the seriousness of those actions.

"They don't take (drinking and driving) seriously," said Schmidt.

"We need people to be aware of this," said Rideout.

The simulated crash and its aftermath were extensive and involved more than a year of preparation, Willis said.

Rose was placed in a body bag, taken to a funeral home and stuck in the refrigerator Thursday afternoon — all while being filmed for a video that students will watch today.

Gordon was handcuffed and headed to the drunk tank at the Sheriff's Department, while Rideout was brought to Providence Medford Medical Center and treated like a real patient.

Willis even organized a helicopter to pick up and transport a mannequin representing the second driver to the hospital. The driver dies en route and never makes it, according to the simulation.

The two-day program, titled "Evry 15 Minutes," also included a morning activity Thursday, in which students were randomly pulled from class by a grim reaper — one every 15 minutes — to illustrate how frequently people die in alcohol-related crashes.

"There are consequences to your actions, and the students need to realize this when they make decisions," Willis said.

Each student involved in the crash wrote letters to their parents that will be delivered to them today, explaining how their actions put them in their unfortunate situations.

During an assembly today, the school will watch a video summarizing everything that took place, and parents will read obituaries of the students who died.

Willis hopes the event will teach students that while not everyone will be affected by drunken or distracted driving, anyone could be.

"It won't necessarily happen to you, but this is what could happen to you," she said.

Teresa Ristow is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email her at teresa.ristow@gmail.com.



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