Mount Shasta High School senior Kaimana Ferguson was put into a body bag and transported to the morgue last Wednesday as part of the Every 15 Minutes Program, which allows students a devastating glimpse of the possible effects of drinking and driving. Taylor Thomas coordinated the complex two-day event for her Senior Project.
On Thursday, a mock funeral was held for Ferguson and several others who were “killed” in a traffic collision in front of the school, as well as students who were pulled from class on Wednesday to symbolize the teenagers killed in alcohol-related crashes every 15 minutes in the United States.
Thomas said coordinating the event was a months-long process, and she started planning at the start of the school year. She applied for a grant from Every 15 Minutes, and they will reimburse up to $6,000.
She said she became aware of the program when she saw other schools doing it. She told her mom when she was a freshman that “this is something I have to do.”
Her goal was for teenagers “to have the visual that this is what can happen.”
She said, “Even though it was all staged, it’s something that’s so real. The message, the emotion, the impact. It’s all a real thing and it’s something that happens way too often. I just want to help encourage people to make the safest decisions so it’s not such a frequent thing anymore.”
Junior Dani Mercedes said, “Every 15 Minutes impacted me by showing the possibilities that can come from drinking and driving. The most powerful part, for me, was seeing all the people I know being in the situation and how sad it was.”
Many local agencies and businesses were involved in the project, including the California Highway Patrol, Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Department, Mount Shasta Police Department, Mount Shasta Fire Department, Mercy Medical Center Mt. Shasta, Mt. Shasta Ambulance, the City of Mount Shasta, Siskiyou County Juvenile Probation, Ramshaw’s Towing, College of the Siskiyous and Mount Shasta Memorial Chapel.
Ramshaw’s provided two totaled vehicles which were staged in front of the high school to look like a traffic accident. Ferguson and Quincie Cross pretended to be fatally injured in the crash, which was supposedly caused by a “drunk driver” portrayed by Stephanie Schoonmaker. Ian Budesa, a passenger in one of the vehicles, also “died.”
College of the Siskiyous theater students provided makeup to help make the injuries look realistic.
Law enforcement and emergency responders were dispatched to the scene, and treated the collision as if it were real. They used jaws of life to extract Cross, and she was taken by helicopter to Mercy Medical Center Mt. Shasta, where she “died” of her injuries.
Schoonmaker was taken to Juvenile Hall in Yreka, where she was fingerprinted and “booked” for driving under the influence.
Students who “died” over the course of the day – including McKenzie Lowry, Linnea Lynch, Abby Andrus, Anna Taylor, Baylie Tobin, Wayde Burns, and Caleb Santi - were plucked from class by Myles DeLeon, dressed as the Grim Reaper. They were isolated to a vacation home for the night with no contact with their families or friends. Baseball and softball players who participated had to miss practice Wednesday night, and even their cell phones were confiscated.
Parents of the teenagers also had a difficult role to play. Ferguson’s mother, Kainoa, went to the scene and was assisted by Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Chaplain Keith Bradley. She then had to identify her child at the morgue.
“I’m not sure I can put into words just how powerful and emotional this actually was but I am so glad Taylor Thomas decided to take on the Every 15 Minutes Program for her senior project,” said Kainoa. “I’m so proud of my boy and his friends and I hope this has impacted our kiddos.”
Kim Santi (Caleb’s mother and Baylie’s aunt) said the experience was difficult, but important. “I think all these children need to realize it could happen to anyone, anytime. And their deaths wouldn’t just impact one person. It would impact us all, as a community.”
During the funeral assembly, Melissa Balma (Wayde’s mother) and Kim Santi read letters to their loved ones. Schoonmaker’s mother, Tonya, read a letter about her disappointment and anguish over her daughter’s life-altering decision to “drive drunk.”
Also during the assembly, the student body heard from an actual inmate who was serving prison time for a drunk driving incident in which a friend was killed. Kelie Taylor, Anna’s mother, said hearing from this young man was impactful. “I appreciate, as a parent, any time (this lesson) can be brought home to my child.”
“It impacted me by making me think more about my actions, especially while driving and how quickly one wrong decision can change your life and everyone else’s life,” said Anna Taylor said, a junior. “The most powerful part for me was when we had to write letters to our parents about what we were thankful for and what we wish we could have said. It really made me look back at my life in a different way.”
Baylie Tobin, a senior, said, “I believe it left an impression on a few of the kids and hopefully it will stick with them. I saw how (they) reacted and the emotion it provoked from them. I think the most powerful part was seeing the parents read their letters to their ‘departed’ children.”
Taylor Thomas said she sees her future in the medical field and plans to pursue a career in nursing. “I’ve always wanted to help people,” she said.