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Every 15 Minutes Packs Punch
0402 HUGS

In countless small towns across America, the standout athlete often dates the Homecoming Queen. This past week in Escalon … he ‘killed’ her.

Football player and wrestler Frankie Bavaro, taking on the role of the drunk driver in the Every 15 Minutes program, caused a crash that claimed the life of Homecoming Queen Taylor Busch. The crash also killed Clare Fitzgerald and left Bavaro’s fellow athlete Josh Redding paralyzed from the waist down.

Nearly three dozen Escalon and Vista High students took part in the dramatic Every 15 Minutes presentation that played out at the high school on Thursday and Friday. Many were The Living Dead, students tapped out of class ‘every 15 minutes’ early Thursday morning by The Grim Reaper, signifying that someone is seriously injured or killed by a drunk driver in that timespan every day across the country.

The 2014 program marked the sixth time Escalon High School has hosted an Every 15 Minutes program and it again sent ripples through the school and community.

The lifelike crash, down to having one fatality – Fitzgerald – at the scene and having a life flight helicopter touch down to take the badly injured Busch away, was staged for juniors and seniors, with parents and other family members of the involved students also coming to watch.

The scene unfolded along Escalon-Bellota Road, with Bavaro the driver of a pick-up truck that had three passengers, all four piled into the front seat. Austin Martinez and Jacob Salvador escaped with relatively minor injuries, but Josh Redding was pinned in the vehicle and was paralyzed.

Bavaro was determined to be under the influence of alcohol by officers on scene and was placed under arrest, put in a patrol car and hauled off as rescuers tried to resuscitate one victim and called the coroner for the other.

Busch was the driver of the overturned vehicle, Fitzgerald was ejected from the car and fellow passengers Brittaney Lima and Logan LaRossa, walking wounded, could only wait and watch and hope for the best as emergency crews tried to save their friends.

Played out in real time, ‘The Golden Hour’ that is so crucial in helping to save a life after a major accident, the students in the stands paid attention and took it all in.

For seniors Julian Young and Alana Kualapai, taking part in the program was an eye opener. They accompanied the Grim Reaper to the classrooms on Thursday as students were ‘taken’ and joined the Living Dead.

“I saw it as an opportunity,” Young said of taking part, looking to help spread the message to his classmates about being smart when it comes to drinking and driving. “It was a challenge, but I am glad to be involved in something this powerful.”

Added Kualapai, “It’s scary to know that stuff like this happens. Don’t take it lightly …be more cautious, be more defensive on the road.”

Young said he hoped all students took the message to heart and added that it had an impact on him as well.

“Always say ‘I love you’ to those you love because you never know if it will be your last time,” he said.

Coordinated by the CHP in cooperation with the Office of Traffic Safety, the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Department and local police, fire and city departments, MediaFusion Studios does the filming of the accident scene and the aftermath, which is played on Friday morning prior to a ‘funeral’ ceremony for the victims. Summit Solutions Consulting President Chris Stevens, a retired law enforcement officer who lost three of his own family members as victims of DUI accidents over the years, once again served as emcee and helped coordinate the program. Overseeing the entire production for Escalon was the trio of Debbie Murken, Cathy Pinheiro and Irene Laugero, who have worked together on the last several Every 15 Minutes efforts. Pin-Ups Salon personnel from Oakdale, with leader Jamie Pritchard, did all the make up for the program.

Friday morning’s assembly included information regarding the ‘fate’ of Bavaro, who was sentenced to 30 years to life in prison for taking two lives; the reading of letters, one by a parent and one by a student, done while the students involved were separated from their families for the 24-hour period between Thursday’s crash and Friday’s assembly; and an address by a young DUI driver, Rosemary Lopez, who told how she lived the scenario, driving drunk and killing someone as a result. San Joaquin County Superior Court Judge Tony Agbayani also related what would happen to students if they were in his courtroom for a DUI offense.

The realistic program gives the entire school and community time to think, Stevens said, with hopes that the information is used to help keep everyone safe.

Escalon, he added, has become an example he uses in Every 15 Minutes programs he puts on throughout the region. The school has not ‘lost’ a student to a drunk driving accident since the first Every 15 Minutes program was put on in 2004.

“It was very real,” Lima said on Friday, after the conclusion of the program. “I’m better now … but it was crazy, when they pulled the tarp off Clare, it seemed so real.”

CHP Officer James Smith said the program has value, and he praised the schools that continue to take part, devoting time, financial support and participants to the program.

“We believe it does make a difference” he said. “We’re hoping we can be the ones to prevent a tragic loss of life.”

Stevens echoed the sentiment and urged students in Escalon to “keep watching out” for each other and loving each other enough to care what happens.

“In the 40 years prior to 2004, Escalon High School lost 47 students to drinking and driving,” Stevens explained. “In 2004, Every 15 Minutes came and something happened, you didn’t lose anybody.”

Ten years later, he said, the record holds and he said the students brought about the change, shifting the culture to make sure there is a designated driver or that a parent or other responsible adult is called if students have been drinking and shouldn’t drive.

“You decided to shift your culture. You made the difference,” he told students, urging them to keep the streak going. “Have a plan. Take care of each other.”