It’s a phone call every parent fears and one Lisa and Steven Cox never expected to get.
“I thought it was extremely difficult because it just seemed too real,” Lisa Cox said. “It’s every parent’s worst nightmare. So even getting the phone call from Officer [Jackie] McQuaid, I knew it was just a program but it still really hit home.
“I told Steven on the drive here that I can’t breathe — I was too emotional.”
The couple had the grim task of identifying their son, Walker, after he was involved in a head-on collision in which he and a classmate died. While this was part of Every 15 Minutes, a nationwide program that shows the dangers of DUI and distracted driving, for those watching and participating it was all-too real.
“I hope they realize they’re not invincible,” Lisa Cox said of those watching.
“At that age they think it happens to other kids and other families.” Steven agreed and added, “I think parents can use something like this to start that conversation with their kids. If they [kids] are in that situation, such as if they have been drinking, they’ll do the right thing.”
The event took place on Thursday, April 20, at Sedona Red Rock High School. There, juniors and seniors witnessed a scenario in which one of their classmates was driving drunk and collided with another car full of students.
One of the two deceased students was senior Xan Hawes, who was injured badly and was hanging halfway out of the windshield of one of the cars.
The scenario called for her to be transported by Guardian Air to the hospital, where she later died.
“This has been really mind-blowing,” she said prior to being taken to the hospital. “It’s a huge learning experience to the effects of drinking and driving. I feel honored to be part of this. We volunteered if we wanted to play a bigger roll. I did because I wanted that experience and to be involved as much as I could be.”
As to what her parents’ response would be when arriving at the hospital to identify her body she said, “I think it will be shocking. They’re told very little. So to see me and how extreme the situation is, and the fact that I will be stone cold and they feel my cold hand, I’m sure they will be battered and very emotional.”
According to the program’s website, traditionally on the event’s first day the Grim Reaper calls students who have been selected from a cross-section of the entire student body out of class, the website states.
One student is removed from class every 15 minutes. A police officer will immediately enter the classroom to read an obituary which has been written by the “dead” student’s parent[s] — explaining the circumstances of their classmate’s demise and the contributions the student has made to the school and the community.
A few minutes later, the student will return to class as the “living dead,” complete with white face make-up, a coroner’s tag, and a black Every 15 Minutes T-shirt.
From that point on “victims” will not speak or interact with other students for the remainder of the school day. Simultaneously, uniformed officers make mock death notifications to the parents of these children at their home, place of employment or business and ask them to come to the scene of the accident to identify their loved one.
SPD Chief David McGill has seen the program over the years as both a law enforcement officer and parent. While living in California his daughter took part in the program and like the others, he had to write her obituary.
“I’m supposed to be this big, tough cop but when I sat down to write her obituary I was very emotional and had a hard timing doing it,” he said. “I knew it was a drill but it’s so realistic. It really tugs at your heart.”
As for the program’s impact he said he hopes it resonates with not just the students but the parents as well.
“We were all kids once and at that age, sometimes it’s tough to get through to them,” he said. “But I think as long as it impacts one, 10, 20 or all of them and encourages them to makes better decisions, then that’s all we can hope for.”
Once again, SFD Chief Kris Kazian hosted the event and would explain what the police and paramedics were doing, including when they pronounced Cox dead at the scene and when Hawes was being transported to the helicopter.
“The students get to see the beginning, middle and end of what happens all too often when someone makes a bad decision,” he said prior to the event. “It’s brings everything full circle based upon the choices that are made. In one moment, everything can change.” BLOG COMMENTS POWERED BY DISQUS