Mock collision drives home terrifying reality to College Park students

Survivors stand by the fatal mock collision of two vehicles at College Park High School on March 21 as part of the Every 15 Minute Program. (Photo by David Scholz)

PLEASANT HILL, CA (Mar. 22, 2024) — The normal roar from the bleachers at the College Park High School football field took on a far more somber feel as the student body gathered for a noontime demonstration of a simulated DUI collision and its horrific aftereffects.

“I am nervous, but I am glad I can do it for my community and the school,” said junior Connor Nachand, who wore realistic makeup for his role as the student who died after being thrown through the windshield of one of the two vehicles involved in the fatal crash.

“I hope it has a lasting effect on my friends,” said Nachand.

As part of preparations, he also went to the Contra Costa County morgue – a life-altering experience that further drove the point home for him.

“I know I will never drink and drive – I will take Uber,” Nachand said.

Watching the scene unfold

Emergency personnel work to remove the roof of one of the vehicles to free its trapped driver. (Photo by David Scholz)

After a brief announcement, the California Highway Patrol (CHP) program began with “living dead” students removing a huge black tarp to reveal two cars that had collided and their occupants. The deceased and others were trapped inside.

As those in attendance started comprehending what was before them, two students emerged from one car. Soon after, students heard police dispatch transmissions broadcast over the public address system at the field. That included the 911 call passenger Jenna Kozina made, setting in motion multiple first responders heading to the scene.

The relative quiet scene on the track was soon replaced by the distant sound of blaring sirens, signaling that law enforcement and emergency services were enroute. One by one, police, CHP, ConFire and finally ambulance crews rolled to the scene to tend to those trapped in the wreckage and gather information from other victims.

Kozina, a junior, noted that her brother took part in the event in 2020. The activity was more poignant for her as a family friend perished in a car accident.

“It’s a real thing,” said Kozina, who hoped those watching would make “informed decisions’’ going forward.

‘You did this’

The demonstration also included the arrival of a Reach Air Medical Services helicopter that transported one of the victims to John Muir Medical Center. Those in attendance subsequently learned that the person had also died.

The experience culminated with the parents of the deceased arriving at the scene and the mother, seeing her son in a coroner’s body bag, painfully coming to grips with the loss.

“It can’t be. It can’t be,” she repeated. “I can’t even fathom living without you.”

Police officers on hand took the responsible driver through a series of field sobriety tests and administered a breathalyzer before declaring he was under arrest and handcuffing him.

“Did you know this person?” the arresting officer asked, pointing to the deceased. “You did this. Let’s go.”

Senior Alex Gamble, one of the living dead, lauded the impressions the event leaves on students. “It gets the point across with the visuals.”

Another program March 26 in Concord

The March 21 presentation was part of the CHP’s Every 15 Minutes program. It began a two-day experience at College Park that culminated 24 hours later with a mock memorial and assembly in the gymnasium to honor those students who perished in the accident.

Another Every 15 Minutes is on the local calendar for Tuesday, March 26, at Concord High School.

The CHP’s outreach staff schedules these events at the beginning of each school year on a first-come, first-serve basis, using $9,999 in grants. The California Office of Traffic Safety, through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, supported the grant for the Pleasant Hill program.

Generous community businesses and entities provided additional funding: Pleasant Hill Parks and Recreation, Pleasant Hill Police Department, John Muir Medical Center, MADD, Ouimet Brothers Concord Funeral Chapel, Cresco, Arrowhead Towing, Golden State Lumber, Grocery Outlet, DeVino’s, Noah’s Bagels, Donut King, El Tapatio Restaurant & Cantina, Kinder’s, Safeway, Starbucks, Agent2000 Derek Knapp, State Farm Matt Rinn, Airtight Construction, AWT Construction Group Inc., DJR Construction, Ace Hardware and Stevenson Printing.

David Scholz
David Scholz

David Scholz is back in journalism as a freelance writer and photographer after nearly two decades in education. Prior to moving into teaching in 2000, he worked as a full-time journalist since 1988 for rural community and small daily newspapers in Central Ohio and Northern Nevada, and later in California with The Business Journal in Fresno and dailies in the Bay Area, including The Oakland Tribune and The San Francisco Chronicle. More recently Scholz also worked in an editing, writing, and page layout role with the Rossmoor News.