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OC HIGH: STUDENT NEWS AND VIEWS : Crash Course in Reality : When six Capistrano Valley students were in an auto accident Tuesday, driving became the hot topic on campus. But opinion is split on whether the harsh lesson will get through.

October 14, 1994|JOSLIN GEMSCH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Joslin Gemsch is a senior at Capistrano Valley High School.

The news arrived as a telephone call Tuesday morning to the principal's office at Capistrano Valley High in Mission Viejo.

Six students had been inside a car that apparently was speeding to school that morning when it tumbled out of control and crashed. Parents, students and teachers heading to school passed the gruesome wreckage, many fearing that no one could have survived it.

All the students did survive, some just barely, but the shock of the sight and the revival of long-held fears have made driving the No. 1 topic on this campus.

Physical education teacher Don Cholodenka remembered the week before when he called roll. Someone was absent, and a student cracked, "Well, he's dead." Not funny, Cholodenka told his class. "I really got on them, because I have lost many students to car accidents."

Now this. Wednesday's class, with one of its own at home nursing injuries, was quiet and saddened, Cholodenka said. "I think they finally realized it could happen to them."

That's what Principal Jessica Gorman had been trying to achieve when two years ago she brought a mangled car on campus for a drama to be played before the school's 2,800 students, complete with blood-soaked, teen-age victims, panicked parents and grim paramedics.

"We tried to re-enact an accident as realistically as possible," she said. "I think it really impacted the students. They were just really quiet during this whole hourlong theatrical."

But now, Gorman said, maybe it's time to do it again.

"It takes an accident like this to really hit home and for everyone to realize what can happen when you don't take driving seriously," said Ryan Hawkins, student body president at Capistrano Valley High. "I think people may drive safer now. In my group it seems like it hit home. I think they're going to watch what they're doing. A few of my friends got speeding tickets. They say they're going to slow down and everything, but I don't know what it'll take to get through to everyone."

Hawkins tried. Wednesday, a day after the accident, he was on the classroom public address system urging students to be more careful, to use safety belts and to leave home a little earlier so there would be no need to rush for the first bell.

"I tried not to sound too much like a commercial. The principal and I thought it would hit home better if a student would give this message."

Hawkins, a senior, said most students his age have driver's licenses and use of a car, so they do their own driving. But younger students must depend on parents and friends for a lift, especially if after-school activities keep them past the time school buses depart.

"I don't think the kids worry as much as the parents about who's driving them," Hawkins said. "I remember when I was a freshman, getting rides home with kids on my soccer team. Mom always worried who was driving me. Kids are just concerned with getting a ride."


Lindy Broberg, a senior, considers herself one of the exceptions, but she admits it may be because of the onslaught of warnings she has received at home. Her father has warned her about the dangers of driving, and her older brothers, both paramedics, have filled her with horror stories.

"I've always heard the stories," she said. "One night my brother came home covered in blood from this accident. I mean, that's not for me."

She avoids riding with other teen drivers if she can do the driving herself, she said. "Then I feel like I'm in control. A lot of my friends, they're not the best drivers. I've almost gotten into a couple accidents with my friends. We didn't, but we came close."

Only once has she refused to get into a friend's car, she said. He had drunk one beer, and to be on the safe side she begged off and called her mother for a lift home.

"I've always had a feeling I'm going to be in an accident--a bad one--ever since I've gotten my license. I had a couple chances to get a car last year, but it didn't have an air bag, and I told my parents to forget it."

Broberg now has her own car, willingly provided by Mom and Dad. Her father, Richard Broberg, says he believes she is safer because of it.

"I think some of the kids think they're immortal, that nothing's going to happen to them. One of Lindy's friends has a reputation for driving fast. It did bother me when she rode with her, but what can you do? They have things they have to do. That's pretty much why we provided the kids with cars."

Opinion about whether the spectacular crash will change any driving habits is divided among students.

"We were talking about it in my government class, and a lot of people were talking like it didn't bother them," said Lindy Broberg. "But I saw it--I drove by it--and I couldn't get over it. It could have been me."

The shock of the crash "has made me very aware and more cautious," said Alicia Lopez, a sophomore. Her brother died in a car accident. He wasn't wearing his seat belt, so seat belts have become a family cause. "I always wear a seat belt, and I yell at people who don't," Lopez said.

Jamie Weyler, a sophomore, said the crash has made her vow never to go without seat belts again. She had never thought about being in a traffic accident before, "but this made me think it could happen to me."

But Norman Ruiz, a freshman, said the crash did not frighten him. "I don't think it will ever happen to me. If I drive, I'll be driving carefully. I won't get that many people in my car, and if I have to, I'll make them wear their seat belts."

Those kids who drive recklessly probably will not change, Ruiz said.

"Most of them, they'll just keep doing it. They just, like, keep driving fast."

Times Staff Writer Steve Emmons contributed to this report.

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