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Student says simulation was ‘too real’

Every 15 Minutes program drives home DUI message

Posted: November 5, 2009 9:21 p.m.
Updated: November 6, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Valencia senior Mackenzie Brown reacts during the "court proceedings." In the event, students and parents get to witness the consequences of drunk driving.

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Seventeen-year-old Jason Halliday stood handcuffed in a blue jumpsuit in a Santa Clarita court room on Thursday afternoon.
Prosecutors argued he should be put away for the rest of his days for killing four other teens in a drunk-driving crash. Meanwhile, his ghostly victims looked on and cried in the audience.

The gavel fell. The athletic senior honor student’s sentence: 60 years to life in state prison for four murders.

And then Halliday had to face the parents of the crash victims.

“The hardest part is to know that I’m never going to hear her say ‘Mom’ again ... or hear her laugh,” Carla Hicks said, her voice shaking as her eyes welled up with tears.

This was part of the Every 15 Minutes Program — a day of events that teaches high school juniors and seniors about the dangers of drunk driving in a creative and firsthand way. Each local high school experiences the program every two years.

And even though it was all staged — a fake DUI wreck, painted injuries and a mock trial — it seemed real to the Valencia High School students, parents and teachers participating.

The act created a powerful emotional illusion for Hicks.

Just two hours before she stood in the courtroom addressing Halliday, Hicks watched her 16-year-old daughter, Hannah, being pulled out of a car by firefighers and hauled away on a stretcher by paramedics as fake blood stained her body and clothes.

“Now you have nothing but time to think about the half of my heart that you took,” she told Halliday.

As other emotional parents confronted Halliday, some students watching in the courtroom broke down in tears.

Superior Court Judge Graciela Freixes next told Halliday another family also wanted to speak to him but couldn’t because they were at the hospital deciding which of their daughter’s organs to donate.

“Unfortunately, (she) is dying even as we speak,” Freixes said. “(These) families will remember you on every holiday, every birthday, every graduation day, every morning... They will never forget this day. They will never forget you.”

She next told the teen he would receive the maximum sentence, making him ineligible for parole until he turns 77.

“(It’s) because this was a completely preventable event that you chose to make happen,” Freixes said. “I hope you wake up every morning and realize it wasn’t worth it.”

Parents and students leaving the courtroom said they were surprised how much the day’s events affected them.

“I thought that I could handle it because I knew it was a simulation, but when you see the accident and you see the kids... you feel so helpless and it really seems real,” Hicks said.

Joanne Halliday, the mother of the “defendant,” said it was difficult to see her son standing trial.

“It’s horrific because he’s a good kid and yet one stupid choice (and) he’s ruined the lives of many,” Halliday said.

A sophomore filming the the event for the school’s television station had to leave the room after emotionally breaking down.

After meeting Halliday a few days earlier and following him with a video camera from booking to sentencing, it was difficult to see him receive prison time, 15-year-old Macky Brazina said.

“All I saw was his knees shaking,” Brazina said as she sat teary-eyed on a curb outside the courthouse. “He was so nervous ... It was too real.”

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