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Piece of Mind:

An important 15 minutes

May 20, 2010|By Carol Cormaci

Public safety and school officials are bracing for a two-car collision they expect to take place at 9:20 a.m. Tuesday on Oak Grove Drive, directly in front of La Cañada High School. An intoxicated driver will be involved, and at least one of our own teens will die, maybe more. We know that at least a few will be injured, and the underage drunk behind the wheel of one of those cars will be arrested.

Of course this is theater with a very specifically targeted audience, and all the youth participants will, by Thursday, be completely healthy. The offending driver will be out of “jail” and back in class. It’s hoped that at least a few kids will receive the intended, sobering message — the same week the Spartans are gearing up for prom night — that there can be deadly consequences to driving under the influence of alcohol.

Adults oversee the two-day program, called Every 15 Minutes. According to Joanne Davidson, assistant principal at La Cañada High, the name is derived from the fact that four times every hour a U.S. resident dies in an alcohol-related traffic collision. There is a website devoted to the nationally used program: wwwevery15minutes.com.

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In a 2008 enactment, La Cañada student Jensen Higley played the role of the drunk driver. After the “crash,” she was handcuffed by a California Highway Patrol officer and placed in his patrol car. We reported that Higley, on seeing one of her friends lying on the street as one of the “injured,” was disturbed, even though she knew it was all staged. “I looked at her and couldn’t believe I would do something that would hurt her,” Higley said.

Taken from the scene to the Glendale jail, Higley had to don a blue uniform before being taken to the courthouse. There, according to our report, her eyes filled with tears when she saw her parents waiting in the courtroom. They were moved, too. Her father, Mark Higley, said that it was difficult to watch his daughter go through the program, “but we felt it was absolutely important to do it.”

The teen was “sentenced” to 34 years to life and was told, sternly, that she would not be eligible for parole until she was 52. Imagine what it must have felt like for her to hear such words. I wish more of our kids could experience what Jensen did.

Will Moffitt, a former La Cañada school board member who is chairman of the Community Prevention Council, has regularly confirmed what most of us know all too well: Alcohol is the primary substance that’s abused by teens.

The council will be among those involved in presenting the Every 15 Minutes program next week, along with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s and Fire departments, CHP, City Hall and, of course, school officials. The undertaking is being financed by a grant from the state Office of Traffic Safety and community sponsors, according to Davidson.

Should you encounter a traffic delay between 8:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Tuesday along Oak Grove Drive, instead of being irritated, please consider saying thanks to the adults who care enough to present the program and the teens willing to participate.

The message they’re trying to convey is one that must be driven home.


CAROL CORMACI is managing editor of the Valley Sun. E-mail her at ccormaci@valleysun.net.

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