I was in zero period editing the final deadline, when Officer Aron Dragoo told us that a drunk driver had killed my friend Cole.
The day before, I was in the bleachers for the senior panoramic, joined by lively classmates. The chatter ceased when the photographer counted down from three, capturing a fragile moment with the flash of a camera.
In that same instant manner, the grim reaper took Neco Tejada, the photo editor for yearbook.
Walking on to campus a half-hour earlier, I ran into my friend Cole. The sun was hiding, whispering the potential for rain. I mentioned this to him, noting the possibility as a threat to our track meet.
I attributed his affect to morning drowsiness. In fact, he was one of 25 students taking part in Every 15 Minutes, a drunk-driving awareness program that has occurred every two years for the past six years for upperclassmen at Concord High.
As a sophomore, I caught a glimpse of the grim reaper from across the quad. This time, I saw it all up close. The scythe scratched the wall as Cole left class.
Shortly afterward, my teacher told us tearfully that a close friend of hers died this way when she was in high school.
A serious reality
Every 15 minutes, a heartbeat swallowed up the intercom. It was not the grim reaper stopping hearts, but human recklessness.
As we filled the bleachers this time, cries from seniors Alyssa Granados and Ronnie David filled our ears, contrasting with the panoramic a day before. The crash scene showed senior Gabe Kent lying across the hood and unharmed junior Ryan Murphy dialing 911.
It began to sprinkle, but water was not just falling from the sky.
Senior Devon Patry sat in the driver’s seat, screaming that he couldn’t feel his legs. EMTs and police officers remained level-headed in the midst of the staged disaster. After freeing him with the jaws of life, they took Devon away on a gurney. His injuries rendered him paralyzed, and Ronnie’s sent him into intensive care. They took Gabe away in a hearse, after his parents said their goodbyes. Police arrested Alyssa on charges of DUI and vehicular manslaughter.
To conclude the presentation, Principal Rianne Pfaltzgraff restated the purpose of the program and read Gabe and Ronnie’s obituaries. One of my classmates was absent for the rest of the day because of emotional distress.
A time to mourn
The following day, we filed into the bleachers again – this time in the gym. The loved ones of the living dead sat in chairs on the floor. Kimmie Snow, a Concord High alum, spoke of the event’s importance, after which the living dead walked in behind a casket. Each of them placed a rose on it before sitting down.
Devon entered in a wheelchair, already seated due to the accident. Alyssa, wearing a white prison jumpsuit, handcuffs and ankle chains, was the last to enter, escorted by a police officer.
A cinematic video portrayed Alyssa’s decision to drink with Ronnie. It also showed that Gabe’s seat belt was broken, demonstrated the disaster, explained the aftermath and revealed what the living dead regretted about their premature deaths. Many wished to say “I love you” to their families a final time.
Junior Natalia Ramos read a letter expressing what she would no longer be able to as a victim of an alcohol related-collision. Darian Sui’s mother read an emotional letter to her daughter, written as if she had actually died. It was eerily similar to a funeral, even with Darian seated not 15 feet from where her mother spoke tearfully.
Guest speaker Jackie Shinn Fratangelo, also a Concord High alum, recounted her tragic experience in August 1999. She vehemently told us that the drunk driver, who rendered her incapable of breathing on her own, did not have the right to take her future away. Her recovery was miraculous.
Ending alcohol-related deaths on the road wouldn’t be a miracle. It’s possible to make safe choices. Vice Principal Kenneth Hickok reiterated this truth in a closing sentiment.
As the living dead left the gym, Alyssa’s ankle chains created an ominous sound – a reminder of the numerous consequences we had all witnessed.
Rayna Stanziano is senior at Concord High. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org