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Staged Drunk Driving Crash Designed To Impact Students
Taste Of Reality
Rescue crews tend to Escalon High School senior Shelby McCune, one of the victims in the staged Every 15 Minutes drunk driving crash on Thursday along Escalon-Bellota Road. Marg Jackson/The Times

The tarps covering the demolished vehicles were pulled back, a 9-1-1 call was made, sirens wailed in the distance … and the 2018 edition of Escalon’s Every 15 Minutes program was underway.

Put on for juniors and seniors at Escalon and Vista high schools, the simulated drunk driving crash is designed to realistically drive home the dangers of drinking and driving. By the time the smoke cleared, emergency crews had done their work and police had investigated, one student was under arrest, two were dead, one was paralyzed … and countless lives were changed forever.

Eduardo Marrufo portrayed the intoxicated driver, whose reckless driving caused a crash that resulted in the ‘death’ of his friend Cuyler Crawford, a passenger in his car, and minor injuries to passenger Max Nicholas. In the other car, the one Marrufo struck, passenger Priscilla Nowling was ejected from the vehicle as it overturned, pronounced dead at the scene of the crash along Escalon-Bellota Road. Passenger Shelby McCune had major injuries and was taken by helicopter to an area hospital, only to learn she was paralyzed from the waist down. Driver Madison Kindberg was unhurt physically – but the emotional scars will last a lifetime.

The scene was staged on Thursday morning, April 19 and was a well-coordinated ballet, bringing in police, fire and ambulance crews to assess the scene, tend to the wounded and investigate the crash. Marrufo was ultimately arrested, taken away in a police car as a hearse came to remove the body of the deceased, with the Grim Reaper and a group of The Living Dead looking on. The Living Dead represented the number of students the school would have lost on Thursday if someone had been involved in a drunk driving crash ‘Every 15 Minutes.’

The realistic drama follows the victims to the hospital and the morgue, with parents brought in as well – the aftermath of the crash scene played out on a video during an assembly for the student body on Friday morning.

Friday also featured a number of guest speakers, from a judge to an attorney, and program emcee Chris Stevens, a retired San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Deputy who now works with multiple Every 15 Minutes programs around the county.

On Thursday, he narrated ‘The Golden Hour’ that is crucial for emergency responders as they try to save lives at the scene of a crash. Friday, he also provided information to students about ways to be smart and safe, acknowledging that there will be parties but imploring the teens to make sure they make a plan and have a designated driver to get them home safely.

Members of the accident scene and the living dead are taken out of school on Thursday and sequestered away from family and friends, with no cell phone, no internet, no way of getting in touch. It’s designed to drive home the reality of loss.

The mangled vehicles were also placed on the quad at EHS, next to a graveyard containing tombstones of all the students ‘lost’ on Thursday.

After the Friday program, which also included the participating students placing a flower on a casket as they entered the gymnasium, they were reunited with family members and their classmates. Hugs were given and tears were shed, as participants and those left behind grappled with the emotions the program brings.

Stevens noted that the first Every 15 Minutes was staged in Escalon in 2004 and no students have been lost in drunk driving crashes since the inception of the program at EHS. In the 40 years before that, 48 students were killed in crashes.

The conclusion of the Friday program also brought special thanks, bouquets of flowers and a standing ovation for the three women who have been involved in the effort from the start – coordinators Debbie Murken, Cathy Pinheiro and Irene Laugero. This was their final year to oversee the program; they are turning it over to a new group but said they will be there to assist in any way possible, believing in the validity and success of the program.