Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, April 13, 2017
Every 15 Minutes program sends chilling message
by Monique Labbe
Students at Deer Isle-Stonington High School got a heavy dose of what reality could be like when an intoxicated driver gets behind the wheel during the Every 15 Minutes program last week.
A program that takes place at high schools nationwide, Every 15 Minutes tackles the statistic that a person dies as a result of intoxicated driving every 15 minutes. The two-day event begins with the Grim Reaper pulling one student out of class every 15 minutes. Those students are dubbed The Walking Dead and are not to talk to or interact with peers or teachers for the remainder of the program. Additionally, the parents of those students were asked to write obituaries for them. The first day ended with the students observing a live mock car crash, where a student playing an inebriated driver kills another student.
“You know that it’s fake, but when you’re covered in fake blood laying on the hood of a car and they’re putting you in a body bag, you can’t help but feel like it’s a little real,” said Tyson Rice, who played the role of the fatality during the event.
Rice’s mother, Leslie, was involved in planning the program; so, when her son was approached to play the fatality, she had mixed emotions.
“Because we were so involved from the beginning, I didn’t think our family would be chosen,” she said. “I wasn’t sure about it, but he really wanted to do it, and I was proud that he was chosen as somebody who would take it seriously and that the kids respected.”
The scene was lifelike, as first responders from the Deer Isle and Stonington fire departments approached the crash as they would in a real situation. Rice’s parents arrived at the scene to find their son in a body bag and were asked to identify him, something Rice said felt more emotional than she could have expected.
“Seeing him like that was incredibly difficult,” she said. “That’s the closest I ever want to feel to that kind of situation as a parent.”
The Hancock County Sheriff’s Office responded to the scene as well, even conducting a field sobriety test on the drunk driver, played by Silas Bates.
“I knew it wasn’t real, but when they took me away and brought me to the jail, I had to go through it twice to get to the court. It made me really not want to end up there,” said Bates.
For both Bates and Rice, the most difficult part was having to attend a mock funeral for Rice. Bates had a front row seat; Rice was backstage listening in on his own funeral service.
“That was way more emotional than I could have thought,” he said. “I guess I didn’t see myself the way other people saw me; so, to hear the things that people were saying and knowing my parents were listening to it, too, it was pretty tough.”
“That was definitely the realest part, for me,” added Bates. “Because you know that this could be real, that it could happen.”
Rice was even asked to read a letter to his parents from backstage, something his mother said felt eerie.
“I was already a mess by that point, and hearing him tell us he loved us and everything, all of those emotions were real, there was no acting there,” she said.
The program is a chilling reminder of the dangers and consequences surrounding intoxicated driving, and for those involved, including DISHS principal Todd West, it seems to have struck a chord.
“It was a very powerful program,” said West. “My hope is that the experience opens up a conversation with students and adults around drinking, driving, and making responsible decisions.”
“For me, I just hope people think about what they’re doing before getting behind the wheel or getting in the car with someone who has been drinking,” said Tyson Rice. “Being the person who died in that scene, it changed my perspective, because the crash wasn’t caused by me, it was caused by another person. Even if you aren’t drinking someone else on the road could be.”
For Bates, the message is simple.
“Don’t drink and drive. Seriously. Because the consequences don’t just affect you, they affect the entire community, especially in one as small as ours. It just isn’t worth it,” he said.