Every 15 Minutes - collaboration with J. Hoopes, P. Forsythe
By Loree McComb
26 May 2008
In two days I died and came back to life...
This is the blog and parts of an article I wrote about my experience in the "Every 15 Minutes" program at Rim of the World High School. I started working on this since August, and it was one of the most intense, impactful, dramatic, and devestating experiences- but at the same time one of the best and most rewarding.
"There are so many things I wanted to say, but waited too long. For me, there was no tommorow, there was no other day, no 'next time.'"
In two days, I died then came back to life.
I know that for most of you, this year's "Every 15 Minutes" program has in some way, shape, or form, changed your life. I can imagine hearing someone's name called over the loudspeaker or seeing someone being extracted from a mutliated car was life-changing. In less than a school day, 31 students at Rim of the World High School were killed by a drunk driver.
I'll share my experience with you, in hopes that the impact of Thursday, May 15th, 2008, and Friday, May 16th, 2008 will forever remain with you, and serve as a reminder of the consequences that one bad choice can have on the entire community- the Ripple Effect.
On May 15th, 2008, my day was unlike any day that I had ever, in my life had. I arrived at school at 6:45 am- everything in the halls seemed normal. No presence of anything unusual was looming in the air. But I walked into Room 101- the staging area for the day's events, and things changed dramatically. I had set up that room from the previous day to prepare for the chaos it was about to experience- and even then, when I had been so familiar with that room, something was very different.
The cars were set and staged in the front parking lot. And after a few beautifying hits into the windows with a metal rod, they were nearly ready for the mock crash.
Without any waiting, or hesitation, Right at 7:30, our first name was announced for the day. "Every 15 Minutes, someone is killed in an alcohol related incident,_______ _________, your time is now." It hurt me so bad that I knew just about everyone on the list of names to be called out. Some of them, I had been friends with for years, some were newer. And some I had never known until this program... but still, even then, it was heart-breaking to hear their names called.
When the crash victims make-up began to be applied, we were either in awe of the amazing job our make-up artist did, or laughing at the fact that Eric had a jelly doughnut coming out of his forehead, at least that's what it looked like at first. That was the only way to shake off the anticipation, and nerves.
But as the day progressed, and the crash drew nearer- I began to feel the adrenaline, nervousness, and fear run through me. I knew that everything wasn't real, it was all fake- I wasn't really hurt, and neither was anyone else- Eric was really okay, he wasn't dead. Christy was still my Lt. Duck, and this was just another thing we were doing for leadership. Casey was still my Army/Navy Rival- nothing was going to change that. And Bubba was still the my right hand man- and he was going to give his leadership hug. Shelby, Hannah, Juan, and Kellie were all okay too. No one was hurt or injured. No one was dead. It was all fake. It wasn't real- until we got into those cars, and the tapes started playing. We were even warned- "This is going to get very real, very fast."
Drunk car: Shelby - Driver, arrested and charged for felony DUI. Christy Center- Front Passenger, Dead on Scene. Jacque - Right Back, transported and dies at hospital. Hannah - Middle Back, paralyzed from waist down. Juan - Left Back, moderate injuries, transported and survives.
Sober Car: Kellie Domon- driver, moderate head injury- transported and survives. Eric - front passenger: Thrown through windshield- Dead on Scene. Casey - right back, dead on scene. Kent "Bubba" - left back, dead on scene.
The second the tarps dropped and the 911 call was made, it became "very real, very fast." I cannot begin to describe to you what it was like:
The 911 call had been made. The tarps were gone... There was silence- no one in the cars stirred, the audience was silent, only the wind blew. I remember my hand blowing gently back in forth in the wind. For a few moments, just silence.
That all changed. All I began to hear was screaming. That is when it became real for me. When Shelby is shouting my name- Juan is trying to wake me up. Christy won't move, Hannah can't move, she can't feel her legs. The other car was filled with the same drowned out fear. Kellie was crying- she saw Eric through a windshield- Bubba and Casey lay silently in the backseat.
When I heard the sirens of the emergency personal, I thought, Oh my God, please get me out of here. This is not fake anymore. The make-up that I used to have on isn't make-up, it's my own blood. It's my own life draining out of me. I was unable to move, unable to cry, speak, help my friends, or do anything. I felt so hopeless. The fear was real. The pain was real. Everything became real. The firefighter that came to my aid told me I was going to be okay, and I wished and prayed that he was right. All I kept thinking was get me and my friends out of this car.
The Jaws of Life were used to remove my door. I was covered with a blanket to prevent any further injury, along with Hannah. I wanted to get out so bad, but I still was incapable of moving. The reality of everything was so overwhelming. All I could do was pray that he would remove my door faster. But the 5 minutes that it took to remove my door felt like 5 hours. It was horrible. And when they finally broke the door free- the chaos intensified for me.
I was put in a C-collar to prevent any neck movement. My firefighter assisting me told me that he was going to help me and get me out of there, and that I was doing just fine. I knew he was lying. I knew that I was dying. I knew that there wasn't much they could do, but they were going to try anyway. He pulled me out of the car, and I was strapped onto a backboard, put on a gurney, and triaged.
I remember hearing the voices of the firefighter trying to get me to say me name, give them any kind of response, open my eyes, move my fingers or toes- and I couldn't. I remember one of them saying "I don't think she is going to make it." I remember Shelby screaming my name when I was taken past her, and not being able to respond. I could hear people in the audience crying.
I was loaded into the ambulance with Hannah, and taken away.
Every 15 Minutes, someone dies in the United States in an alcohol related incident... on Thursday, May 15th, 2008- my time had come.
That day, May 15th, 2008 was one of the longest days of my life. The heart-breaking truth of hearing someone called out- the reality of a DUI crash... it was overwhelming.
Our group of dead people went to the Country Club to simulate our deaths further- we weren't allowed to go home, call home (or anyone for that matter): we were isloated from the world, we were dead.
That night was a roller coaster of emotions- I don't think I have ever cried that much in my life. Hearing the stories of real life crashes- and the effects it had on entire communities. And the details that I would have never imagined possible. the real wicked truths of driving under the influence were becoming unbearable. I have already lost one friend to it, why another- why can't this just end? Why do people have to make one bad choice that forever alters life for so many others? WHY?
The hardest part of the night was still to come though. We were taken through yet another simulation- we said goodbye to our lives- and everything in it. Our school, our homes, our best friends, our parents, our siblings. "Silently say goodbye" And then we were buried. We witnessed our own funeral, and were lowered into the ground, until we could no longer see the light or the sky or anyone, ever again. We then began to write our good-bye letters home- I NEVER EVER EVER want to do that again. It was heartbreaking, having to say goodbye. There were so many things I had to say, but waited too long.
This is a piece of my letter:
"There are so many things I wanted to say, but I waited too long. For me, there was no other day, no tommorow, no next-time.
Mom- I never told you how much I really love you. You are my biggest and greatest hero, and my true role model. You have been my inspiration and support in everything I have done, and have made me into the person I am today. Thank you for all your love and support: I couldn't ask for a better mom.
Brent, my life wouldn't be the same without you. To me, you are so much more than a step-father, but a mentor and compassionate, loving father. You took my family in with open arms when we needed it the most. Brent, you are the source of my courage and strength, and I will never forget everything you taught me.
Anthony, Auston, Paige, Mike, Jamie, and Kyle: you are the source of my energy and life. From playing the world's greatest pranks on mom and dad, to having heart to heart conversations at 2 in the morning, I never regret all the trouble we got ourselves into, all the laughs we had, and all the love we shared.
Goodbye. Love, Jacque"
Bear in mind that this is only a portion of what I wrote.
I can't even describe the pain and suffering of that day. I was involved in a DUI crash- died- was buried- then wrote that letter home.
The next morning we woke up to one of the most beautiful days, if not the most beautiful days I have ever seen. The mountain was quiet- The air was crisp- The sun was rising slowly over the ridge. God had truly made His point that morning.
We drove back up to the high school at 7:00 am, and began to set up for the "mock funeral" assembly. I began to feel my nerves again. I knew that it was going to be another hard day. But I kept telling myself over and over again, "Yesterday was about death, today is about life."
The Assembly started without delay- I walked out of the back curtain with my lily and lit candle. I walked to my own coffin, and memorial picture and gently set down the candle and flower by them.
Sarah, Kelsey, and myself began to sing the song "Angel" by Sarah MacLauglin while the rest of our group followed. each settign down a flower and candle by their respective headstone or casket.
The video of the past days events was shown. We relived the horrors of the crash, we saw our friends hurt, dead, or arrested.
But the hardest part was again, yet to come. When the video ended, the letters home were read by students who had volunteered to read them. I was one of them. Christy Center, Erica, Cody, Shelby and myself were the students who read our letters, and Mrs. Ostrowski and Mrs. Wood, parents of students who "died" read theirs. As soon as I finished reading mine, I made a straight point to my mom, went over to her and just sat in her arms and sobbed. I had never missed her that much in my life. I couldn't imagine my life without her.
When the assembly ended, we asked that everyone would sign a contract pledging not to Drink and Drive or get into a car with someone who was under the influence. In all honesty, I did not think that anyone would sign it- but every single person in the gym- Every Single Junior and Senior in that Gym flooded onto the floor and signed that contract. I can't describe the way I felt when I saw that happen. I again, started crying. All the work that I and my other commissioners had put into the program had paid off.
When the assembly finished, everyone was giving hugs, we were finally alive again. People I had been fighting with, or hadn't spoken to in years came up to me and gave me the most trusting and honest embrace.
In two days: We saw 5 people die in the crash, we heard all the names called, we saw friends hurt, in pain, distressed, and dead. It was emotional, but we all came back. We were all granted that second chance at life- we are alive and well- but have a new outlook and appreciation for life. I will never forget my experience in "Every 15 Minutes" ever. Thank you all for everything.