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Helmut Schmidt, Published May 01 2013

'Every 15 Minutes': Moorhead High program aims to drive home cost of drunken driving

MOORHEAD – On the cold, wind-whipped track outside Moorhead High School, about 800 juniors and seniors looked on Wednesday as one of their classmates “died,” two others were badly injured, and another was arrested in a recreation of a drunken-driving crash.

As a Sanford Health air ambulance helicopter took off with one of the injured, and an ivory-colored hearse pulled up to carry away the dead student, 15-year-old Kaia Endrud, snapped the last of her photos for the yearbook.

But the scene meant more to Endrud than a photo credit in the album of high school memories.

“I think that it’s a good thing they do this. My cousin died in an accident where the other guy was drunk,” Endrud said.

The mock crash was the culmination of the first of two days of activities for the “Every 15 Minutes” program presented by the Moorhead Police Department and the school.

According to a statistic on the national “Every 15 Minutes” website, that’s how often a person dies in an alcohol-related crash.

“The ultimate goal is to make sure it doesn’t happen in real life,” said Moorhead police Sgt. Scott Kostohryz.

The day began with removing 26 junior and senior student leaders from classes in a three-hour exercise called the “Living Dead,” Kostohryz said.

To do that, 6-foot, 5-inch Moorhead police Officer Jordan Smart, dressed as the Grim Reaper, walked into classrooms and “harvested” selected students.

Then another officer read the student’s obituary, written by their parents.

“It’s a moment you don’t forget, and it’s a moment you hope students don’t forget,” Kostohryz said.

The students are then made up with white faces and black shirts to represent an alcohol-related death, and can’t talk to other students, staff or their families for 24 hours.

It’s the second time that the program has been held at Moorhead High. The first time was two years ago, counselor Rachel Lerum said.

“For the students who don’t know anything about this, it’s a shock factor,” Lerum said.

The obituaries of the dead were printed up as small posters. Students tapped as dead stood back-to-back silently holding the posters in the school’s main hall in between classes as students milled about.

Ellora Geiszler, 18, read a couple of the obituaries, and said “the whole school would be in mourning” if they lost a classmate.

“I think it’s sad. This actually happens a lot,” said Ayesha Pemble, 16.

Tanner Tweten was pulled from his class shortly after 9:20 a.m.

The senior, who is involved in speech, theater and music and was homecoming king last fall, thought a lot about taking part in the event.

“My cousin died in a drunken- driving accident,” he said.

His cousin was 17, just a year older than Tweten at the time of his death. He died before he got to the hospital. Prom is this weekend, Tweten said, and he doesn’t want to lose any classmates.

“I hope it impacts other people,” he said. “I’d like to see nothing bad happen.”

The student leaders pulled from their classes took part in a retreat Wednesday night. The event ends this morning with an assembly.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583