Program shows drunk driving’s grim result

Clarissa Kell | Daily Press The Grim Reaper and the “student statistics” led the Gladstone junior and senior classes to the Gladstone High School parking lot for the Every 15 Minutes program’s crash scene Wednesday. The students participating in the program as statistics (drunk driving deaths) are Toni Carlson, Thomas Claycomb, Eric Leonoff, Morgan Letteriello, Brittney Paquin and Taelor Zeise. The Every 15 Minutes program showed students the deadly consequences of drunk driving.

GLADSTONE — Every 15 minutes, someone in the United States dies from an alcohol related traffic collision. A united community effort brought an emotionally impactful program called “Every 15 Minutes” to the Gladstone High School Wednesday.

The “Every 15 Minutes” program offers real life experience without the real life risks and consequences. It is a two-day event designed to dramatically instill in high school juniors and seniors the potentially dangerous consequences of drinking while driving and how their choices have a ripple effect, not only on themselves, but others in the community.

“We need to open the eyes of teenagers. They live in the moment and they sometimes don’t understand that their actions have an immediate impact on their lives, but the lives of others (also). It’s important for us as adults to sometimes show kids what could happen instead of talk about it. And that’s how kids learn. A lot of kids need to see the emotional piece to drinking, drugging and driving,” said Brady Downey, Gladstone High School principal, about why he thought the program was necessary for his students.

Downey explained he was approached to put on the program at Gladstone High School by personnel from Public Health, Delta and Menominee Counties and Michigan State Police Community Service Trooper Dale Hongisto. This was Gladstone’s first time participating in the program.

Hongisto explained he has been involved with the program for other local schools, a majority of them being in Menominee County. He said he and the others involved worked hard to bring the program’s impact to Delta County.

“Everyone is going to react differently. Some aren’t going to react at all, some are going to take it very seriously and some in between. And that’s fine. Even if we can impact even a small number of the students, I think we’ve succeeded,” said Hongisto about the program.

Wednesday started out like an ordinary day for the students not involved, as the program being held was kept a secret.

Throughout the morning, the “Grim Reaper” removed a student, who was pre-selected and knew about the program, every 15 minutes to simulate the statistical death rate for alcohol related crashes. A police officer immediately went into the classrooms and read the “dead” student’s obituary to the class — a written version was sent to the “dead” student’s parents. A few minutes later, the students returned to the class with white face make-up and could not speak or interact with the other students.

In the afternoon, the Every 15 Minute program participants simulated a traffic collision.

The two-day event concludes today with an assembly.

Morgan Letteriello, a Gladstone senior, said she began to feel the impact of the program when she was pulled out of her class.

“When I first found out I was going to be involved, it didn’t shock me as much until today when it first happened. When I got pulled out of class and they read my obituary — that’s when I started crying and it actually hit me that this is something that could actually happen in real life,” she said.

Letteriello was one of six student statistics for the program. There were a total of 10 students directly involved with the program, either being statistics or used for the simulated crash.

Michelle Chaillier from Public Health, Delta and Menominee Counties coordinated the program. She explained she has been involved with the program for almost four years, but this was her first time coordinating.

“Basically what I do at Public Health is drug and alcohol prevention, and we see this (program) as a really big part to prevent drug and alcohol problems,” she said.

She explained it was not just Public Health, but a huge community effort from different agencies and individuals that made it all possible.

Those involved with the program were Public Health, Delta and Menominee Counties, Gladstone Public Schools, Gladstone Public Safety, Delta County Sheriff Department, Michigan State Police, Rampart EMS, Skradski Funeral Homes, OSF St. Francis Hospital, Pro Towing, Ihde Photography, parent and student participants, Delta County Prosecutor’s Office, Judge Steve Parks, Delta County Jail, Mark Erickson as the Grim Reaper, and Bob Bower as the crash scene narrator.

Chaillier explained the program isn’t free and usually ends up costing thousands of dollars depending on the size of school.

The event was sponsored in part by Public Health, Delta and Menominee Counties, Delta County Community Foundation, Escanaba Rotary Club, Gladstone-Rapid River Kiwanis, Gladstone Lions Club, Elmer’s County Market, Quality Inn and Suites, D&M Subs, and Pizza Hut.

Hongisto explained outside of those involved directly with the program, the community was left in the dark so there would be more of an impact.

“Outside of all of us that are putting the program together — nobody in the community knows about this today. It’s meant to be a surprise because we want to make it very impactful,” he said.

With the recent program, Downey said Gladstone High School parents and community members are invited to attend an underage drinking town hall meeting at the Gladstone High School auditorium Monday, April 29, at 6:30 p.m.

The meeting will be a way to discuss current efforts in the community and network to become a part of the solution.