Talk is cheap.
It even cheaper when it comes to talking to teenagers about the consequences of drunk driving.
Their eyes glaze over. They fidget. They play with their cell phones.
Last week, all that was bypassed when the entire county banded together at Mammoth High School to do a brutal reenactment of a fatal drunk driving collision.
The program is known as “Every 15 Minutes” and was created after a national statistic revealed a person dies from a drunk driving collision every 15 minutes. Students, police, Mammoth Hospital, a Navy rescue helicopter, the Mono County Sheriff’s department, and paramedics participated in the program to bring the message home.
It is a hot day in late May.
A white car lies trembling on its side, wheels spinning.
A young girl lies beside it, small, bleeding into the gritty pavement.
Another car has come to a stop after hitting the white car. Inside, seven teenagers are slumped, some screaming, some bleeding, some silent.
Sirens blare. Mono County Sheriff’s dispatch crackles commands into the blue sky.
“We have a two-vehicle collision, we have a two-vehicle collision with injuries.”
A woman runs up to the girl lying on the ground, screaming, crying. She kneels down, grasping at her, calling her name.
“Bailey, Bailey, baby, wake up.”
She tries to give her daughter breath.
It doesn’t work.
Police cars arrive, wailing. An officer pulls the driver of the other car out of the car. The boy is slack-jawed, vacant-eyed. He stumbles against the officer. The officer asks the boy to walk the line, follow his fingers with his eyes.
It doesn’t work.
“We have a fatality, we have at least one fatality, we have serious injuries.”
Ambulances arrive, and more ambulances. The drunk driver’s car is crumpled and cracked. A boy is flung up against the ceiling, half in, half out of the car. Gurneys and backboards arrive and children are loaded onto them.
Clothing and wallets and cell phones and a silver hair barrette litter the ground.
A police officer goes over to the crying mother and the girl and gently pulls her away. She collapses into the arms of a bystander. He takes a blue blanket and covers the girl, then two officers unfold a blue body bag and zip the girl’s body into it.
They take the bag, small and limp and lifeless, and push it into the back of a patrol car and drive away.
A helicopter arrives, spinning dust and debris into the hot, blue sky. It lands behind the high school and paramedics run victims on gurneys to the open doors swung wide under the throbbing blades.
The doors slam shut and the rescue workers back off, heads bent, and the helicopter lifts taking dust and plastic water bottles and dreams with it into the blue sky.
The drunk driver is read his rights and handcuffed and guided into a patrol car. He doesn’t look at anyone as he weaves his way into the car.
More people arrive, more parents, more crying, more wailing.
In the bleachers, the students are silent, transfixed.
No one talks, no one texts anyone, no one looks away.
The Grim Reaper, in black and white Goth makeup, scythe black against the sky, walks past the accident followed by several more students, all in black and white. They file silently into the bleachers, sitting next to their living classmates. They are the “Living Dead” and they represent the ones who will die from a drunk driver collision this one day.
The ambulances depart. The fire trucks depart. The two vehicles sit silent in the middle of the schoolyard.
The students file back to class, still quiet.
Two of their peers “died” today. Another is paralyzed for life. Another will go to jail for two times the age he is now, convicted of two counts of manslaughter.
At the memorial service for the students Friday, the big multipurpose room of the high school is crowded with students and parents and family members. Parents read letters to their dead children. Former students talk about losing a friend to a drunk driver. Police Chief Dan Watson talks in harrowing detail about the tragedies his family suffered when a 28-year-old drunk driver slammed into his son’s wife’s car.
On the screen, the accident plays out again, in harsh, sharp detail. The students don’t talk.