YONCALLA — When “grim reapers” visited North Douglas and Yoncalla high schools Wednesday to swipe students from the classroom every 15 minutes, it was only the beginning of an emotionally charged program designed to teach a lesson about the dangers of impaired driving.
After a student was removed from the classroom, a Douglas County Sheriff’s Office deputy would enter to read their obituary to their peers.
Every 15 Minutes is a program designed to show students the consequences of driving while impaired. The event’s name comes from the fact that in the United States a person is killed in a motor vehicle accident related to the consumption of alcohol, illicit substances or prescriptions medication every 15 minutes.
“I feel like it’s certainly interesting,” North Douglas freshman Lily Christensen said. “I like the scary make-up and getting to act, but this is a good event for letting people know not to get in the car with someone who’s been drinking.”
Students from Drain, where North Douglas High School is located, came by bus to Yoncalla for a simulated two-vehicle accident at the football field.
Yoncalla senior Kali Schuster portrayed a teenager who drank alcohol before heading out to prom with her friends Athusoss Gilbert, Amiah Ellis-Roseberry and Austin Clemons. After prom the group headed over to Dairy Queen and collided with a car occupied by North Douglas students Trace Gordon and Christensen.
DCSO showed up to the scene first, followed by North Douglas County Fire & EMS. The crews worked to calm Schuster, who was the only one able to get out on her own accord, and get Ellis-Roseberry and Clemons into ambulances.
Gilbert and Christensen were pronounced dead on the scene and were transported in body bags by Smith Lund Mills Funeral Home. Gilbert went through the windshield and died on impact, Christensen hit the steering wheel with a force that caused damage to her heart and lungs.
“Death is the great equalizer. Death does not care how cool you were in school, death does not care how big of a geek you were in school, death does not care anything about social status. Death is death,” Douglas County Medical Examiner Craig Kinney said afterwards. “The minute you die everything you were and everything you might have become is gone, forget about it. You will never grow up, you will never own fancy cars, you will never have nice houses, you will never have a family of your own, you will never go camping, you will never do any of the things you thought you might do if you get yourself dead.
“And don’t mistake it, this is getting you dead. There are several things that occurred here today that caused these people to be dead,” he said.
Gordon had to be revived multiple times on scene and was transported with a Reach 8 Air Ambulance.
Throughout the event the police scanner played in the background, including the original phone call made to 911 and a notice when a parent was about to show up to the scene.
Volunteer Maycie Wilkerson showed up as the parent whose child, Gilbert, “died” in the staged accident. She was extremely emotional and screamed at Schuster, who was in the back of a police car at the time.
Sheriff’s deputies had to hold her back and talk her down while the work on the accident scene continued.
Schuster was “arrested” toward the end of the simulation. Deputy Sean McCauley, Kinney and Douglas County District Attorney Rick Wesenberg then talked to the students about the risks of impaired driving.
“I understand the fact that this is a simulation, but unfortunately law enforcement, fire and medical services deal with these things more frequently than we should,” McCauley said. “It’s important to know that these things do happen, and they happen around here. We’re not isolated because we’re rural Douglas County.”
McCauley also explained that Schuster was arrested, not just because she was drunk but, because of the injuries and death her actions resulted in. Wesenburg said that if this were a real crash, Schuster would likely be in jail until she was about 40 years old.
McCauley also explained the process of a field sobriety test, and throughout the simulation Schuster had to perform all three parts; an eye test, a walk and turn, and a one-leg stand.
The grim reaper swiping students from classrooms was new this year and designed to jump start the conversation earlier in the day.
“The ones who aren’t always joking around are getting the message,” Christensen said.
Students who were “killed” had to design their own headstones and write their own obituaries.
“God bless I have never had a fatality from a prom where we put one of these things on,” Kinney said. “You can’t take death back, you only get to make that mistake one time. Hopefully that gives you something to think about.”