It was Nicole Barker’s turn to die.
When her time came, the Los Alamitos High School student was in choir class.
“Everyone was crying,” said Barker, after her passing, her face a ghoulish white skull. “It was the most impactful thing I’ve ever experienced.”
Barker, a Cypress resident, became one of at least 29 Los Al students who met their end Thursday during Every 15 Minutes, a national program aimed at teaching students the dangers of drinking and driving.
According to its organizers, every 15 minutes someone dies in an alcohol-related traffic crash in the United States. For the stark reality to hit home, administrators pulled one student from class every 15 minutes starting at the beginning of the school day.
The event also included the simulation of a deadly crash in the center of campus, with real paramedics, police officers, fire crews and a hearse responding.
By 11:58 a.m., when the simulation began, at least 17 students had ‘died.’
The scene opened on the aftermath of a parent’s nightmare: a drunken student who plowed into another car. The driver was injured, but not seriously. Her passenger and the two people in the other car were not so lucky.
A Grim Reaper walks the pavement.
Hundreds gathered to watch the event. Some stood on benches to get a better view.
Senior Tate van Duivenbode said the program hits home because he’s survived a car accident that wasn’t alcohol-related and he has friends who drink. He said it emphasizes the preciousness of life and “how lucky you are for that extra breath.”
Seal Beach motorcycle officers arrived on scene fire truck followed.
The officers interviewed the driver, a brown-haired student with a gash across her nose and blood on her legs. She told the police officer she’d never been in an accident before.
Volunteer Matt Brittain watched from a few feet away. The 19-year-old graduated from Los Al High last year and said he took part in the event in 2011, and it affected him so much he volunteered again.
“If it impacts one person, it’s done its job. This program impacts so many,” Brittain said while wearing a black and white shirt with ‘Don’t Drink and Drive’ emblazoned on the front.
As the police continued questioning the driver, firefighters placed the body of her friend, senior Jessica Ottman, on a yellow stretcher. They’ve covered her with a sheet.
Organizers first exhibited the Every 15 minutes program to Los Alamitos High School students in the spring of 1999, and it’s typically presented every other year.
Firefighters cut two of the other victims out of the red car. The officer gave the driver a DUI test, which she failed. He cuffed her and put her into a Seal Beach squad car.
During the simulation, paramedics took the two injured people away in an ambulance. Others took the Ottman’s body into a Forest Lawn hearse.
Unlike most assemblies, this event is relatively silent.
Brad Wilson, who teaches Fire Technology and Emergency Medical Response at the school, was a firefighter for more than 30 years and said he’s seen his share of tragedy.
“As hard as this is, it’s important for them to see,” Wilson said. “It’s huge. It leaves a big impact on students.”
Even after the simulation, students continued to vanish from class every 15 minutes.
Funerals for the teens who died through out the day are scheduled for Friday.
Event sponsors included Cypress Forest Lawn, Ganahl Lumber, Los Alamitos Unified School District, Los Alamitos High School, Los Al Police, Los Alamitos Medical Center, Mr. C’s Towing, Orange County Fire Authority, Seal Beach Lions Club, Seal Beach Leo Club, Seal Beach Police Department, Southwest Removal Service, The Youth Center, West Orange County Municipal Court and the California Highway Patrol.