Dexter High students react while watching a staged drunk driving accident in front of the school during the Every 15 Minutes program, Wednesday morning. Mark Wilson Photo
Local police and fire crews responded Wednesday to a grisly car crash outside Dexter High School that claimed the lives of three students and sent one other to jail.
Sirens blared and red lights flashed as the entire student body watched firemen use axes, sledgehammers and the Jaws of Life on a crumpled vehicle in an effort to save the teens trapped inside.
A few feet from the vehicle, a girl lay bloodied and still on the pavement. Tricia Hart of the Office of the Medical Investigator pronounced the girl dead at the scene.
Behind the police barricade and yellow tape, 12th-grader Daniella Solis sobbed uncontrollably. “The one in the car is one of my best friends and the one on the ground, she’s my friend, too,” she said breathlessly.
The jaw- and stomach-dropping scene kicked off an intensive and extensive 30 hours of the annual Chaves County Every 15 Minutes Program, offering a sobering lesson in DWI awareness.
“We try to show that this is real,” said DWI Prevention Specialist Diane Taylor, noting that the car used was actually involved in a DWI-related accident. “No one ever plans to have something like this happen, but all of this is preventable.”
Chaves County Sheriff Sgt. Barry Dixon said at the time of the program’s inception, in the late 1990s, 45,000 people died every 15 minutes in such accidents. Due to prevention programs such as Every 15 Minutes, the number has lowered to around 15,000.
Dixon narrated the aftermath of the crash as nine white-faced students — “the living dead”— looked on solemnly. Two grim reapers also stood over the scene; they seemed to float as the day’s high winds ripped at their cloaks.
“This isn’t a video game — this is real life,” Dixon told students. “This is what happens when you make a bad decision.”
The students pulled from the car went to the hospital. The driver, Marco Mejia, was cuffed and taken to Chaves County Juvenile Detention Center.
Judge Freddie Romero presided over Mejia’s mock trial at the 5th District Judicial Court, which featured prosecutor Donna Bevacqua-Young of the Attorney General’s office and defense attorney Nate Banks.
Meija, 17, sat with his head bowed in the courtroom, wearing an orange jump suit and manacles around his wrists and legs. A jury of the living dead found him guilty on charges of homicide by vehicle and DWI. An audience that included his family and the families of victims watched the proceedings.
“I have to pay for what I did,” he said of the verdict. Meija, admitted the ordeal left him a little shaken. His advice to those thinking of drinking and driving is to stay home.
“I know they won’t listen to don’t drink, so stay home or call someone,” he said.
Meija had before experienced the program, which randomly selects students to participate. He never thought he’d be a part of it.
“It was bad, but it was a good experience,” he said.
The program also included a tour of the Juvenile Detention Center, a funeral of a student at Anderson-Bethany and a mock burial at South Park Cemetery, as well as speakers affected by DWI accidents.
Micah Henry and his father Brian, have been involved in the program since 2010. Two years beforehand, Micah, 28, was the driver in an accident that killed two people. Micah, who was not injured, received a 12-year prison sentence. He was released earlier this year for good behavior.
“It’s important to get the message out to younger kids about the choices we make and the consequences that follow,” he said. “It’s hard to realize at a young age that the choices you make affect so many people.”
While it has been rough for him, he said he is lucky to have family support. “They have given me a good spiritual foundation, especially when it seemed like everything was falling apart.”
As a parent, Brian said he initially ran a gamut of emotions, but faith pulled him and his family closer than ever during the ordeal.
Cindy Blake, of Roswell, lost her son Scott to a drunk driving accident. A Texas Tech student, he and a friend were celebrating the end of finals, but ended the night in a wreck that claimed the lives of Scott and another driver. Scott’s passenger survived, but the accident left him in a month-long coma.
“This program for me is to teach kids they have a second chance my son will never have,” Cindy said. “To me, it’s a prayer answered that my son did not die in vain. His death means life to other kids.”
The program continues 9 a.m. today with an assembly at Dexter High School.
Record Staff Writer