As Matthew Fenley, 16, played dead Thursday morning with his professionally made-up, bloodied forehead propped against the steering wheel of a wrecked automobile, the high-school junior likely was thinking of his grandmother Julie.
“My mother was killed by a drunk driver on December 5, 1987,” said Matthew’s father, Kevin, watching the mock accident scene at North Tahoe High School.
The horrific simulation, staged Thursday, was part of the Shattered Dreams event, sponsored by local law enforcement, emergency personnel and Youth in Action, a student group.
Shattered Dreams, or the Every 15 Minutes program as it is called in some areas, encourages teenagers to consider the consequences of drinking and driving.
The bi-annual two-day event was started in 1998 by Community Services Officer Melinda Maehler after a drunk-driving related crash killed three members of the Peckler family on Highway 267 in 1997, according to high school junior Kassi Sjaarda, 17.
The day of the mock crash last week started off like any other day. Kids went to class, teachers taught, but the day was marked with 40 mock deaths, as every 15 minutes a student was pulled from a classroom to represent the number of Americans that die daily from drunk driving accidents, according to high school junior and Youth in Action member Anja Wittels, 16.
Members of Youth in Action dressed as angels and an officer made up as the grim reaper visited the classrooms directly preceding a death announcement broadcast over the school’s sound system.
“It’s emotional and sort of intense,” said angel and Youth in Action member Amanda Daniels, 14. “The students get nervous,” she said explaining the mood in class.
Parents wrote the obituaries days before the event, a surreal assignment for many.
“The weirdest part was writing the obituary,” said Shannon Barter, parent of Sierra Barter, who “died” in Thursday’s simulated accident. “It was strange writing about your kid in the past tense.”
A new gravestone was erected with each fake death, until by the end of the school day, a graveyard greeted visitors as they entered the high school. The students did not go home that evening, and instead wrote letters to their parents about being “gone.”
The fake accident occurred at lunchtime in the west parking lot of the high and middle schools. It was a swarm of emergency personnel, and “bloodied” students as they playacted the scene of an alcohol-related crash.
The entire student body witnessed the event, most in silence and some tearfully.
“It’s sad,” said 17-year-old senior Nallely Calderon. “It is like this could happen,” she said, admitting to a case of nervous butterflies in the pit of her stomach.
After the crash, the students listen to speaker, Tommy Doyle, 22, who in 2004, five days before he graduated, was involved in an accident.
“I present a different point of view, I was the drunk driver, I killed my best friend,” Doyle said.
A candlelight vigil was held in the evening for the 40 students.
The day after “I grew up with a guy who killed my mom,” said Kathie Fenley from the auditorium’s stage describing for the audience how closely connected she feels people are. “His son was in my mom’s kindergarten class.”
Fenley, a county dispatch worker, Kevin’s sister, and Matthew’s aunt, told the assembled parents, students and emergency personnel about the day she unknowingly dispatched emergency personnel to the scene of her mother’s fatal accident. She spoke Thursday to help illustrate how “choices and actions” surrounding drinking and drug use “have an impact.”
The assembly also included a student film, again simulating one student’s choice to drink and drive and the consequences of it.
As the video played sniffles were audible as audience members wiped their eyes.
After the film, Placer County Under-Sheriff Devon Bell spoke out strongly against drinking and driving and issued a challenge for the students.
“My challenge to you is let those simulated deaths be the last,” Bell said.
Support Local Journalism
Support Local Journalism
Readers around Lake Tahoe, Truckee, and beyond make the Sierra Sun's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.
Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.
Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.
Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.
User Legend: Moderator Trusted User
Jaime Alessio took this video of a bobcat wandering around Kings Beach in broad daylight.