Wednesday, April 24, 2002/lk
The Grim Reaper visited Hood River Valley High School on April 19. He walked into classrooms throughout the morning, sidled among students sitting at their desks and picked out some to "die."
The selected students spent the rest of the day as "walking dead," wearing black hooded capes, their faces painted white. They weren't allowed to speak or interact with anyone, instead moving silently through the halls and sitting in classes in their death capes -- a constant and unsettling reminder to fellow students of the sudden and permanent loss drunk driving accidents can cause.
The exercise was part of "Every 15 Minutes," a two-day drunk and drugged driving awareness program put on by the high school's OSSOM Club (Oregon Student Safety on the Move) and state and local police. The "walking dead" picked from classrooms every 15 minutes respresented the people who die statistically every 15 minutes in alcohol- and drug-related car accidents nationwide.
As the Grim Reaper made his rounds, police officers visited classrooms giving presentations.
"Teens account for 6.7 percent of the driving population but constitute 13 percent of alcohol-involved drivers in fatal crashes," Hood River City Police Officer Tiffany Hicks told a classroom of seniors.
Smokey Mainwaring, stepfather of Trisha Thornton, also gave a sobering presentation to classes about the dangers of street racing. Thornton was 19 when she was killed in January while riding in a car that crashed during a street race in Gresham.
After showing a video with news clips about the accident, Mainwaring held a portrait of Thornton as he spoke.
"This lecture is not about Trisha anymore," he said. "It's about you guys, your future." He spoke of the bad choices his stepdaughter -- and her boyfriend who was driving the car but survived -- made the night of the fatal accident.
"Bad choices result in bad consequences," he said. He issued a challenge to the students to help make Hood River County the first county in the state to go 12 months with "no speeding tickets and no racing violations."
"I have the faith in you to get the job done," he said. "Trisha paid a terrible consequence and we pay for it every day. Make wise choices."
Police officers conducted mock field sobriety tests in the classrooms, having students wear goggles that impaired their vision to simulate the effects alcohol has on motor skills.
Throughout the day Thursday, there were references to last year's fatal accident that killed 16-year-old HRV student Bismar Guadarrama. That crash, which occurred on Highway 35, came just a day after a similar drunk driving awareness program at the high school. Guadarrama was a passenger in a car driven by 16-year-old Uriel Lozano that crashed into a guardrail at a high rate of speed while racing with another car. Lozano and Guadarrama had just left a party in the Upper Valley and Lozano admitted that he had been drinking.
"I think (the presentations) definitely had an impact," said senior Tara Level. "It's something teens are facing at this time in our life.
"I think it's emotional for a lot of people," she said, referring to Guadarrama's death a year ago.
Senior Stephanie Smith was chosen by the Grim Reaper to be one of the "walking dead."
"It's hard to see the different reactions from people," she said. "I keep thinking I can go and talk to someone but I can't. It's basically like I'm not here."
The "Every 15 Minutes" program culminated April 20 in an assembly in Bowe Theater for juniors and seniors. The highlight was an emotional and candid talk by Lozano about the events that transpired last May 20.
After he and Guadarrama left the party, the driver of another car passed them and Lozano said he took that as a challenge.
"I passed him back and I speeded up because I didn't want him to pass me again," Lozano told the packed auditorium. He said he was going 85-90 miles per hour when he saw a curve up ahead.
"I tried to turn but the car just seemed to go straight," he said. "I lost control." After the car crashed into the guardrail, spun around and came to a stop, Lozano said he asked Guadarrama if he was okay.
"There was no answer," he said. "I looked and he wasn't there." Guardarrama had been thrown from the car.
Lozano and another driver who stopped at the scene found Guadarrama lying on the ground, "bleeding bad from the head," according to Lozano.
Lozano was put in an ambulance and taken to Providence Hood River Memorial Hospital.
"I heard a helicopter," he said, and learned that Guadarrama was being taken by life-flight to Oregon Health & Science University Hospital in Portland. Lozano was treated and released from the hospital that night.
"The next day when I woke up, I thought everything was a dream," he recalled. While visiting Guadarrama at OHSU later that day, "a doctor came out and said he wasn't going to make it," Lozano said. "I lost my entire faith in God." Lozano broke down at the podium and began crying.
Guadarrama was pronounced dead two days later, on May 22.
"For the first time I realized that it's all my fault that Bismar is dead," Lozano said. "I realized I had killed my friend. It really sucks because I have to live with it for the rest of my life. And it's all because of one stupid decision which was to drink and drive."
Sobs could be heard around the auditorium as Lozano spoke through his own tears, pausing several times to gather himself.
He told the crowd that "one little choice can change your life forever."
"Now I'm hated by a lot of people," he said. "I'm hated by Bismar's family and I don't blame them. If I was in their place, I'd hate myself too."
He admonished the students to learn from his experience -- "to think before you choose to drink and drive."
"He didn't deserve to die," Lozano said, sobbing. "He was a good kid. He was only 16. He had his whole life ahead of him and I took that away."