Los Al’s Every 15 Minutes program emotionally concludes for Los Al underclassmen

Sophomores and freshmen experienced the heavily emotional conclusion of the Every 15 Minutes program


Sydney Forsyte

A view of a white casket for the “deceased” which rested in the center of Los Al’s gym during the assembly.

Sydney Forsyte, Staff Writer

LOS ALAMITOS, CA — On March 2 and 3, students from Los Alamitos High School participated in the nationwide “Every 15 Minutes” program, which works to teach students about the dangers of drunk driving and discourage students from this deadly behavior. The events of the two days concluded with two assemblies with different programs, one for freshmen and sophomores and the other for juniors and seniors. To hear more about the other aspects of this two day program, including the second assembly, please refer to the articles, “Every 15 Minutes returns to Los Al” and  “Los Al Juniors and Seniors experience alcohol-related driving incident first-hand.”

Principal Kraus opened the program by speaking about the statistic that gives the program its name: every fifteen minutes someone dies in an alcohol-related incident. She and all other staff were dressed in black to honor the student-actors killed in the hypothetical crash along with the larger group of students who had been pulled out over the last day and a half of classes representing lives lost to impaired driving every 15 minutes.

Principal Kraus then played the video produced by the students of Griffin News. The video followed the story of a student-actor who makes the terrible decision to drive while intoxicated. He and a friend are caught in a brutal car accident which wrecks both their car and another student’s car, killing everyone except the intoxicated driver. We see the crushed cars and paramedics. Alongside the accident, the video portrays a long line of student-actors playing the ghosts of previous drunk-driving victims. The video even includes a Grim Reaper figure watching, as it is revealed that the intoxicated student is the only survivor.

The aftermath is depicted, including regretful testimonies from the intoxicated student’s friends who witnessed him drinking, the funerals of the deceased, the courtroom trial of the student, and his eventual jail cell where he will be imprisoned until age 65. The video humanized both the victims and the intoxicated student by showing the regret and shame the student felt and the horrid nature of his act.

“I hope people can get a sense of understanding from this, and that it will feel more real to them, because it can happen to anyone. It isn’t something to joke about,” said senior Blake Brennan, who acted as one of the victims over the past few days.

Interspersed throughout the video were incredibly moving testimonials from the parents of the student-actors who were among the deceased, including one in which the father of Los Al senior, Sofia Youngs, spoke in a mournful and accusatory tone about how his little girl was taken from him by this hypothetical intoxicated driver. The video concluded with the flashing reminder that “It’s been 15 minutes,” followed by photos of all the students that had “died” throughout the exercise.

While the video was definitely heavy and emotional for many of the speakers, staff, and students who observed it, some students failed to be respectful and take the moment seriously. Principal Kraus was forced to stop the video because there were a few mock screams, catcalls, and laughs at the start of the video. Several had even begun to wave their phone flashlights as if they were at a concert because all the lights had been turned off for viewing. 

“It was really disappointing for the underclassmen to not appreciate how much work had gone into that video, even if they think that there should be a better way to convey such heavy material,” stated sophomore Isabella Gasper.

It was difficult to discern whether students found the video itself unrealistic, or if the unruly behavior was simply their way of expressing discomfort with the emotional subject matter.

The video was followed by multiple speakers, including Marilyn Ellis, whose daughter, Kimberly Ellis, was killed in a drunk driving incident 26 years ago on Pacific Coast Highway. She tearfully recounted the story of young Kimberly’s death at the age of 22 in an accident with an intoxicated driver, which also killed several of her daughter’s friends. She recalled the pain and anger she felt when her daughter’s killer was released from prison to a sober living facility.

“Why should he get a future, when my daughter has none?” said Ellis angrily.

Ellis ended her speech by expressing her hope that everyone in the audience would be responsible enough to prevent any more deaths like her daughter’s.

“I just want to remind you how much we all care about you and how we hope that you will be the one to make the smart choice. Be the one,” said Principal Kraus to the students as she ended the assembly.