Assembly Teaches MHS Dangers of Drunk Driving

As part of a drunk driving demonstration at MHS, Caitlin Meyers is consoled during the Every 15 Minutes simulated accident.

This story has been revised. Please see Editor’s Note below.

Last week, Malibu High School (MHS) students, parents and dozens of volunteers participated in a simulation designed to alert students to the real consequences of drinking and driving.

From the students’ perspective, the event began Thursday morning, when the scene of a two-car collision on Morning View Drive, complete with two smashed cars and involving 10 MHS students, was presented to the student body.

Emergency personnel, hooked up to body microphones, swarmed around the grisly accident and a realistic scene unfolded before the students, seated on bleachers facing the street. 

The following morning, students were led into the gym, where they watched a half hour video showing a fictional party that supposedly led up to the grisly accident and the aftermath, from the hospital to the sheriff station to the devastated reaction of parents, and finally the court sentencing of the MHS student who depicted the drunk driver.

Then, actual MHS parents and students came up to speak, parents eulogizing their supposedly slain children, lamenting their lives cut short and children sharing what they wished they were able to tell their parents.

Late Friday morning, a stream of students and parents, embracing one another and still dabbing tears from their eyes, poured out of the MHS gym, followed a little while later by a casket, wheeled out into a waiting hearse.

The event that brought the student body together Friday was not a memorial service for a slain student, but a stark reminder that the experience is all too real for thousands of schools around the country every year, as someone is killed from an alcohol-related collision every 15 minutes in the United States.

March 19 and 20 marked this year’s Every 15 Minutes demonstration at Malibu High, a California Highway Patrol-sponsored program that takes place every three years for the student body. The Shark Fund also contributed money for the program.

“Our goal is to try to be impactful for kids to see the consequences of drinking and driving,” said MHS Principal Dave Jackson, reflecting on the event, which is presented to all 10th, 11th and 12th graders at the high school.

This goal is accomplished through the coordinated efforts of well over 100 workers and volunteers, including dozens of parents, 25 students, school counselors and administrators, the Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station, L.A. County Fire, EMTs, tow truck drivers, State Farm Insurance employees, professional camera operators and makeup artists.

MHS parents Audra Hotchkiss and Judy Palnick, who, together with other volunteers, spent four months preparing for the event, coordinated the event.

Emotions ran high in the gym, where three classes of students sat undisruptive, many sobbing, through the assembly.

The students involved said they hope their experiences with Every 15 Minutes not only change their own lives and those of their fellow students, but may make a larger impact.

“It’s kind of like you’re actually doing something that affects other people -— and then it being online, obviously, it affects other people,” said senior Dawnie Perry, who portrayed a partygoer who noticed her drunk friend getting in a vehicle but didn’t stop her from driving.

MHS students Perry’s age were at one time schoolmates of Emily Shane, the teen killed by a drunk driver on Pacific Coast Highway in 2010. Perry said the experience of being in the simulation gave her an even broader perspective on the tragedy.

“It’s weird experiencing that as my character,” Perry said, “I could have prevented it. I was at the party.”

“Yeah,” agreed fellow student Kennedy Myers, “that really affects you.”

Student Dane Marshall, another participant in last week’s demonstration, said that the lessons the students learned will deeply impact their lives.

“The fact that we were in it,” Marshall said, “it’ll keep us reminding people.”

Jackson said he hopes this is the case.

“We appreciate you taking this seriously,” Jackson told the students before the lights came up in the gym Friday. “Think before you get into a car with someone who’s impaired. Don’t text and drive, don’t drink and drive.

“Take what you learned here and make it part of your life, so we do not have to come to a real funeral.”

The video will be made available for view on YouTube.

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story did not include correct names of the coordinators of the event.