Submitted by Denair High School:
There was a “fatal” car crash Tuesday morning on the Denair High track. Christian Obando was pronounced “dead” at the scene. Chloe Padgett and Scott Badal later “died” at local hospitals.
Valerie Sutton survived, but lost three friends.
Hunter Musgrave was led away in handcuffs, arrested on suspicion of drunken driving and vehicular manslaughter.
The graphically real-life scene – complete with Obando smashed through a windshield, actual emergency personnel using the Jaws of Life and even a helicopter — was part of the Every 15 Minutes program organized by the California Highway Patrol in conjunction with school districts.
It was a frightening, heart-breaking and, yes, sobering reminder to Denair’s students and others of the dangers of drinking and driving.
Shortly after 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, an alarm went off on campus. All students and staff were ordered to evacuate to the football bleachers.
There, they sat in stunned silence as emergency crews – sirens blaring and lights flashing – raced to the accident scene unveiled before them.
Some students quietly cried as paramedics and firefighters worked frantically to “save” Padgett and Badal. They held their breath as CPR was performed on the two teens before they were whisked away by regular and air ambulances.
They heard Sutton wail after Obando’s body was covered with a yellow tarp and, later, zipped into a body bad and loaded into the white coroner’s van. “You killed our friends,” she screamed at Musgrave.
They watched intently as Musgrave failed multiple sobriety tests.
They sat eerily still as a CHP officer read Obando’s obituary.
And Wednesday morning, they relived the whole horrible scene again during an assembly at which a victim of a real-life DUI incident talked about the impact it has had on his life.
The two-day event was timely, with the high school program this Saturday and graduation in a few more weeks.
The message, said Denair Superintendent Terry Metzger, is that “it only takes a minute to change your life.”
In addition to the very realistic-looking wreck between an SUV driven by Obando and a compact car with Musgrave behind the wheel, there were other reminders Tuesday on the Denair campus of how quickly tragedy can strike.
Throughout the day, Principal Kara Backman, accompanied by a CHP officer and a student, went to various classrooms and announced that a “missing” student in that room had died in a DUI-related incident. Obits that the students had written themselves were read. The student with Backman put a black carnation and a teddy bear at the seat where the missing student should have been.
The 20 students who were taken out of school Tuesday – including those who were part of the on-field demonstration – all spent the rest of the day and Tuesday night at a retreat at a local church. They were away from their families for more than 36 hours.
A separate retreat was held Tuesday evening for their parents at the high school, with a focus on talking with sons and daughters about alcohol use and what to watch for. Each parent also had to write a letter to their son or daughter, an emotional exercise after each adult had been notified at work or home earlier in the day of their child’s “death.”
Teens and parents were reunited at Wednesday’s assembly, but only after more vivid reminders of the day before.
The students “killed” in the car wreck, plus the “living dead” whose obituaries were read in class on Tuesday, carried a casket into the gym, symbolizing all who lost their lives.
Musgrave – who was actually fingerprinted and booked into jail, where he spent a couple of hours in a cell Tuesday – was led into the gym in handcuffs.
A 20-minute video was played. It included live-action and still images from the accident scene, plus footage from the hospital where Padgett and Badal died, shots from the morgue and a montage of all the students involved.
Parents Amanda Harlan (Padgett’s mother) and Bianca Warda (mother of Kaitlyn Warda, one of the “living dead”) read final goodbyes they had written Tuesday to their children.
Students Hunter Souza, Kayla Gillman and Musgrave all read letters to their parents saying how much they would miss them or, in Musgrave’s case, how sorry he was for what happened.
Speaker Emanuel Russ shared his heart-breaking story on being a DUI victim. Seven months ago, he was driving to work at 4:50 a.m. when he was hit by a drunken driver. Russ died and was revived three times. He suffered a traumatic brain injury and lost part of his left leg. He has titanium plates in his body. Worse, he has become homeless and separated from his children because of the DUI incident that was not his fault.
“There were a ton of tears,” Backman said after the assembly. “The whole student body was silent or crying.”
In reality, no one died Tuesday. But that didn’t make the emotions any less real or raw for the 280 students the presentation was directed to, the 20 teens who became “victims” throughout the day or the loved ones they left behind.
“The crash scene and gore were so realistic, it definitely took me aback,” said Amanda Silva, Denair Middle School’s principal and, more importantly, Obando’s mother. She and her husband, along with Obando’s father, had to go to the morgue to identify his body.
“My husband and I know that these types of social situations may occur, so we try to reinforce the importance of safe driving,” Silva said. “We tell our kids we’ll always be OK with picking them up as long as they don’t drive under the influence.”
Tuesday was the fifth time in the past 20 years Denair has presented an Every 15 Minutes demonstration; the name is derived from the rate at which people are killed or injured by drunken drivers in the United States.
Work began in the fall for the Every 15 Minutes event, said Backman, crediting staff members Robyn Hilton, Melissa Treadwell and Hannah Yanez for their help. The students from various grades were chosen specifically for their roles about three weeks ago. Their families were notified, but everyone was sworn to secrecy.
In addition to the CHP, the Denair Fire Department, the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department, ambulance companies and the Coroner’s Office were involved. Allen Mortuary in Turlock provided the casket used in Wednesday’s assembly. Many parents donated food and other items for the student retreat.
All the planning and all the organization was to hammer home one simple goal, Backman said: “To keep them from drinking and driving.” With that in mind, every student attending Saturday’s prom will be required to take a Breath-a-lyzer test before he or she is allowed into the party. Anyone who doesn’t pass not only won’t have a positive prom memory, they’ll also be suspended from school.