Every 15 Minutes program shows ramifications of drunken driving

Germantown High School sophomore Kellie Szopinski, 15, plays the part of a victim during a mock accident at the high school.

Germantown High School sophomore Kellie Szopinski, 15, plays the part of a victim during a mock accident at the high school. Photo By Peter Zuzga

April 29, 2013

Germantown - The gym was dark. Front and center stood a gray casket adorned with pink flowers. One by one, 21 students walked down the middle of the gym, each holding a lighted candle, solemnly placing a hand on the casket as they passed.

Though hundreds of people filled the bleachers in Germantown High School gym Friday, not a voice could be heard.

As the drunken driving prevention program - Every 15 Minutes - got under way, those hushed voices slowly turned into sounds of sobs.

Mimicking reality

The lead-up to the morning assembly Friday was just as dramatic. On the morning of April 25, the day before the assembly, every 15 minutes 21 students were taken out of class by the Grim Reaper. A black rose was placed on their desks as Germantown Police Chief Peter Hoell entered each classroom. He read aloud the students' obituaries that were written by their parents.

The 21 students' faces were painted white, their cellphones taken away as they embodied the "living dead."

"That child, once she's taken out, she's symbolically no longer alive to family and friends at school," Hoell said.

Cut off from all contact with the outside world, the group stayed at a hotel that night, not reappearing until the powerful assembly Friday morning.

"They themselves had to live with the lack of communication, as if they had died," high school Principal Joel Farren said.

In the afternoon on April 25, River Lane was turned into the scene of a horrific car crash. Bloodied students could be seen among the wreckage. The coroner and Flight for Life were called as two students, including athlete Jake Showalter, were symbolically killed in the wreck. Student Jon Averkamp was transferred to Community Memorial Hospital, to discover he suffered "injuries" that paralyzed him for the rest of his life.

A fourth student was arrested and charged with vehicular homicide for driving while intoxicated.

These roles continued into Friday morning's assembly.

Intense prevention

Video by IncidentResponseWI

By making the program resemble reality, the hope for organizers was to prevent students from drinking and driving by showing very real and horrifying ramifications, Hoell said. A student-made video showed the timeline of events - starting with a party to the death and ending with the sentencing of the driver - did not leave a dry eye in the gym Friday.

The two-days were a simulation, however, the horrors of drunken driving accidents are all too real at Germantown High School.

"We've had kids die from drunken driving crashes who were intoxicated or drugged and we want to do whatever we can to prevent that. Maybe save somebody's life," Hoell said.

On Jan. 2, 2007, the first year Germantown was planning the Every 15 Minutes program, Farren was at the high school for an in-service day. That day is one he will never forget. He remembers vividly three people walking into the main office - two police officers accompanied by the Washington County coroner.

They were there to identify Wayne Schultz, a Germantown High School junior who was killed in a one vehicle crash. His blood alcohol content was 0.196 at the time of the wreck. His best friend was killed nine months later in a one car rollover accident. He also had a BAC of 0.196.

"I witnessed first hand the pain, guilt, agony and regret of what had happened," Farren said. "The Every 15 Minutes program is a situation, but I share the reality of what happened to your community several years ago because one cannot put into words the reality of events like that. Those ones are real. Our goal and commitment is intervention today rather than pain, guilt and regret."

Working for change

Alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes kill someone every 31 minutes and injure someone nonfatally ever two minutes, a point that was reiterated numerous times throughout the two-day program. The statistic used to show someone was killed every 15 minutes in alcohol-related crashes.

The program ended with a presentation by Mike Knetzger, a Green Bay Police Officer whose daughter, Ashley, was killed by a drunken driver in 2008. He now speaks at assemblies across the country, sharing his story in an effort to curb drunken driving.

"We need to, as a society, be the change we want to be, so I encourage all of you to make a difference," Knetzger said.

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