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Every 15 Minutes program will bring horrors of drunken driving to students firsthand

Havre High School students will get a crash course Tuesday on the effects of driving under the influence of alcohol.

Students will take part in Every 15 Minutes, a day-long program to show firsthand what drinking and driving can do.

The first thing the students will see is fellow students being pulled from class every 15 minutes during the morning. Each student will return to class with his or her face covered in white makeup, while a law enforcement official reads a notice to the class that their classmate is the victim of a fatal alcohol-related accident. The student can't speak to anyone during the rest of the day.

"They're the living dead, quote unquote," said Wanda Allison of the Safe Kids, Safe Communities Coalition.

At noon, the student body will go outside the high school to witness a simulated automobile accident, with one student pronounced dead on the scene and another arrested on charges of driving under the influence of alcohol. The accident will be followed by a trial of the drunken driver and the funeral of the student killed in the accident.

Blue Sky Schools held the program, which has national offices in Lehigh Valley, Pa., last fall.

Allison said the Safe Kids, Safe Communities Coalition spearheaded the effort to bring Every 15 Minutes to Havre. After the coalition researched what would need to be done to hold the event, the school district approved the idea.

The coalition then sought and received support from local law enforcement agencies and the Havre Ministerial Association, she said.

Members of all local branches of law enforcement will be at the event, reading the death notices of the students as they return to class and participating in the mock accident scene and the trial.

Members of the Ministerial Association will also participate, including conducting the funeral.

Justice of the Peace Terry Stoppa will preside at the mock trial.

Allison said counselors will be available for the students Tuesday if they need help, and contact numbers and times will be available if students want to talk about the program afterward.

There won't be a scheduled meeting to "debrief" about the program, Allison said. The consensus of the mental health community is that it's better for counseling to be available after programs like Every 15 Minutes, but not to schedule mandatory counseling or discussion, she added.

The best source of help for students troubled by the program will be the teachers at the high school, Allison said. The teachers know their students, and will be able to send the students to someone who can provide additional help if they are troubled by the event.

The program, designed to show teenagers the potentially fatal consequences of drinking and driving, is organized by a nonprofit organization with the goal of preventing deaths caused by impaired driving and to support a national network of similar organizations.

The program grew out of programs about drunken driving sponsored by communities and organizations like Mothers Against Drunk Driving and Students Against Drunk Driving.

The national organization provides guidelines and training materials for communities that put on the program.

The name of the program came from a 1991 statistic: Someone in the United States died from an alcohol-related collision every 15 minutes, on average.

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