Two teenagers are killed just as they are ready to embark on the next chapter of their lives, while a third will have to live with the guilt of their deaths the rest of his life.
That was the scenario during the second phase of the Every 15 Minutes program on Friday, April 21, at Sedona Red Rock High School. The previous day was the mock accident in which senior Chas Rescigno was arrested for driving under the influence.
The crash claimed the lives of two of his classmates, Walker Cox and Xan Hawes.
This exercise featured more than 20 juniors and seniors, who have been working on this for months under the watchful eye of Capt. Jeff Wassell, of the Sedona Fire District.
“This was a great success,” he said afterward, praising the efforts of the agencies involved including the SFD, Sedona Police Department and Northern Arizona Healthcare. “I am very pleased with how it went.”
The event, held at the Sedona Performing Arts Center, was an emotional one as it began with Rescigno’s trial in which Sedona City Attorney Robert Pickels acted as his defense attorney, Assistant City Attorney Lisa Wieler-Parsons for the state with Judge Ron Ramsey presiding.
During the sentencing, Rescigno was given a 10-year prison term and a $25,000 fine. In addition, he was ordered to serve 150 hours of community service while wearing a T-shirt that reads, “Ask me what happened to my friends when I drove drunk.”
During the sentencing phase, Rescigno’s father, Jeff, spoke to the parents of his son’s victims. “I’m so sorry,” he said, choking back tears. “I know nothing we can say or do will bring back Xan and Walker. They were like our own kids.”
After the sentencing, Chas Rescigno, wearing an orange jail jumpsuit, turned to the audience and said, “Words can’t describe how sorry I am. They had been two of my best friends since fifth grade. I don’t know what I was thinking. I can’t put it into words.”
SPD Chief David McGill addressed the hundreds of students in the audience and was very honest when he said was expecting to cry during the event and knew he wouldn’t be alone.
“If you don’t shed a tear or show emotion, you need to check your pulse,” he said.
He shared an experience a few years back while he was with the Newport Beach Police Department. He said he was one of many who responded to a call of accident involving five teens. While alcohol was not involved, the driver was going at a high rate of speed, lost control and slammed into a tree.
“The impact literally cut the car in half while tearing the kids apart,” he said. “It was one of the most horrific scene I have ever experienced. It was such a tragedy based on one bad decision.”
With an empty stage, students wheeled out two caskets along with poster-sized photos of the two victims of the mock accident.
Pastor Daylan Whitney spoke about both including their families, likes, high school achievements and their plans for the future. Hawes’ parents, Tina and Rem, came up and as is customary with the Every 15 Minutes program, read an obituary about their daughter.
The parents of each student participating in the program was asked to write an obituary but none knew the role their child was playing on the day of the mock accident.
“I don’t know what I am without you,” Tina Hawes said in part following a video montage of Xan. “I don’t know what we’re supposed to do now.”
She went on to say, “Who knows what you would have done in the future? More than anything I wanted to see you try. Nothing would have made us happier than to see you grow into an independent, driven young woman. All we wanted was for you to become the Xan you wanted to be. But you’re gone now and everything else seems so small and insignificant.”
Following Xan’s reading of her own obituary from back stage, she came out for an emotional embrace with her parents. Then, after a short video on Cox, his parents Steven and Lisa went to the podium where Lisa talked about her oldest of three children.
“I just want you to know that you are loved more deeply that you could have ever imagined and that life with you will never be the same,” he said.
Later she added, “I want you to know that I will cherish every single memory. I am devastated that your brother has lost his best friend and your sister has lost one of her fiercest protectors. We are heartbroken we will never see you go to college, get married or become a father. I know you will always be watching over us.”
In 2002 Jason Burns was living his dream of playing baseball for Yavapai College. He was popular, had lots of friends and lived the life of a typical 20-year-old. But one night that all changed.
“That Saturday night started about the same as most with us asking where’s the party and who was bringing the beer,” he said. “There wasn’t room in my friend’s car so I got in a second car. The driver had been drinking. He was going way too fast, lost control and the car rolled. They found me face down on the road, 76 feet from the car.”
Burns, who has been speaking to students for years including six with the Every 15 Minutes program, wasn’t expected to live following the accident. He received numerous injuries including severe trauma to the brain, which has left him with impaired speech. He spent 97 days in the hospitals followed by months of rehabilitation.
“For quite some I couldn’t even sit up in my hospital bed but I was determined to walk out of that hospital and I did,” he said to applause. “Am I sorry it happened? Yes and no. It’s made me a stronger person but my life has been a struggle every day since the accident.”
And then, as a piece of advice to both the students and adults in the audience he added, “What happened to me could happen to anyone here. Make good decisions. If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it.”