By Christina Calloway
PNT senior writer
Melvin Nusser said in the 12 years he’s been principal at Portales High School, he’s thankful that none of his students have died in an accident caused by drinking and driving.
He hopes that will remain unchanged through awareness brought to his students and the school’s community through this week’s Every 15 Minutes Program.
The event, which starts today, brings the dangers of impaired driving close to home for students and their families with a series of activities that includes a simulated vehicle crash in which a few of their peers will be involved in. It will show students how every 15 minutes, a person dies through impaired driven and a “grim reaper” will take students from classes every 15 minutes.
The event is a community effort, sponsored by Municipal Court and its DWI Program as well as area law enforcement and businesses.
According to the Roosevelt County Community Report, 10 percent of alcohol related crashes involved drivers under 21. There has been 12 alcohol-related fatalities in Roosevelt County between 1998 and 2008.
DWI Program Coordinator Riki Seat said the event costs about $5,000 and is paid through her program’s prevention fund and donations.
Seat is excited because community members are taking part of the event. A crew from Cannon Air Force Base will do the makeup of the students involved in the crash.
“The guys that are doing it, that’s their job. They stage plane crashes on base,” she said.
The program’s goals are to challenge students to think about driving, texting while driving, personal safety and the responsibility of making mature decisions.
The most dramatic of the events is Thursday’s crash because it is to be treated like a real one. Rescue workers will treat the injured student participants. The coroner will handle fatalities on the scene, while the injured students will be extricated from the vehicle by the Jaws of Life.
Students participants will continue their experience by trips to the city’s morgue, hospital emergency room and the county jail to be booked for drinking and driving.
Seat expects the most emotional portion of the event to be when the students who “died” in the accident address their parents through audio recording.
Their parents will also engage by meeting with a grief counselor and writing letters to their children. The students and parents will reunite on Friday, according to Seat.
“I’m hoping that it will all build up to the town coming together to decrease underage drinking and prevention of DWIs,” Seat said.
Seat said Friday’s events will close with a presentation from the parents of Ashleah Richards, a Portales High graduate who was killed in 2009 by a drunken driver.
DWI-related crashes in Roosevelt County
• 1994: 40
• 1995: 33
• 1996: 30
• 1997: 40
• 1998: 33
• 1999: 23
• 2000: 29
• 2001: 28
• 2002: 25
• 2003: 27
• 2004: 30
• 2005: 22
• 2006: 26
• 2007: 21
• 2008: 24
• 2009: 26
• 2010: 25
Source: Roosevelt County DWI program