Rockville High School students looked on as their classmates lay near a crumpled car in the school's parking lot on Wednesday morning.
The crash scene, the blood and the response from the Rockville Volunteer Fire Department and Rockville City Police were simulations—part of the school's "Every 15 Minutes" drunken driving awareness program—but the emotional reactions that they elicited in some students were real.
"At first I was acting and then I really went into shock," said Teresa Traficante, a 17-year-old senior who portrayed the only passenger to wear a seat belt and the only one to survive the mock crash.
After the simulation, Traficante sat on a curb, being comforted by her mother.
"My breaking point was I was told to ask my friend if she was OK [and ask] what was her name," she said.
All of the "victims" in the simulated crash were Rockville High students, a fact that Traficante said she hoped demonstrated two things to fellow students: One, such traffic fatalities really do happen. And two, they can happen to someone you know.
"They all know this is fake and they all really know this could happen at any time," said Melissa Holler, a 17-year-old senior and member of the school's Students Against Destructive Decisions chapter. "They can make a bad decision and it can happen."
The simulation, which was witnessed by Rockville students invited outside during their lunch period, was part of a day that included 37 students being declared "dead" as part of the "Every 15 Minutes" program.
A Rockville High alumnus dressed as the Grim Reaper entered a classroom every 15 minutes throughout the day, accompanied by a Rockville City Police officer who read a student's obituary, including the circumstances of their death. The student was removed from class. When they returned they had white face paint and a black T-shirt and were not permitted to interact with others for the remainder of the day.
One student was declared dead while she read the morning announcements to the school, said Samantha Brandon, a 17-year-old senior co-president of SADD.
Brandon said she hoped that the program taught students—especially those getting the first taste of the freedom that comes with a driver's license—a simple fact about alcohol. "You can have fun without it," she said.
The lesson is about making good decisions, said Caitlin Ulmer, a Rockville High social studies teacher and SADD co-sponsor.
"The reality is [the temptation to drink] alcohol is part of high school," she said. "We just want kids to be smart."
The mock crash scene is one of several activities related to drunken driving awareness happening at Rockville High this week. Students participating in the program also visit a local funeral home and attend a retreat where they write letters to their parents telling them what they would say in the event that the student died.
Ryan Hoppman, the student who portrayed the driver in the mock crash and who was lead away in a Rockville City Police cruiser, would go through the experience of being processed by police, Ulmer said. A video of the experience will be shown to students on Friday, the same day that U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood will address an assembly at the school.
When the "Every 15 Minutes" program was founded the name was meant to reflect a statistic that one person was killed in an alcohol-related vehicle crash in the United States every 15 minutes.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that an average of one alcohol-impaired-driving fatality occurred every 48 minutes in 2009.
That accounts for 10,839 people killed in alcohol-impaired-driving crashes—or 32 percent of the total motor vehicle traffic fatalities in the U.S. in 2009, the most recent year for which data is available.
Fatalities in alcoh0l-impaired-driving crashes decreased 7.4 percent from the 11,711 fatalities in 2008, according to NHTSA.
National statistics on alcohol-related fatalities, including the "every 15 minutes" statistic have been debated for years, as has the effectiveness of the program.
Students who saw their classmates laying motionless in the street on Wednesday, said the image provided a graphic illustration of the dangers of alcohol and driving.
"Some students just learn by seeing statistics," Traficante said. "Some others need to learn by seeing actual tragedy."