Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune
Rescue crews pull Liberty High student Adam Pearce from a staged car accident scene Wednesday during the Every 15 Minutes program at Liberty High School. Pearce played the role of a driver who was involved in an accident with a drunk driver.
When Liberty High School students arrived to campus Wednesday, they heard a heartbeat over the schools public address system.
By almost 10 a.m., the heartbeat stopped. Over the system came a report of a two-car collision right outside campus.
Two vehicles were involved in a head-on collision and five Liberty High School students were involved and there were injuries.
By the time Liberty juniors and seniors arrived to the scene right outside campus on Road 36, they saw fellow student Tahner Green sprawled across the hood of one vehicle. In the other vehicle, Mia Wunderlich needed to be helped out while driver Adam Pearce was trapped.
“My first thoughts were this could actually happen to anybody we know,” Liberty senior Jacob Castaneda said. “We are good friends and seeing him there hurt. We’re good friends and it hit hard.”
The collision was staged was staged under the Every 15 Minutes Program which demonstrates to high school students the impact drinking and driving has on friends, families and their community. It was sponsored by the California Highway patrol, with support from the City of Madera, Madera Police Department, Cal Frie, Madera County Sheriff’s Department, Madera County District Attorney’s Office, Pistoresi Ambulance Services, Jay Chapel, Valley Children’s Hospital and many other community partners and affiliates.
However, for Liberty students, the scene was real. Student actors were crying for their injured friends and others were distraught as members of the walking dead surveyed the scene.
Liberty juniors and seniors watched as first responders extracted Wunderlich from one vehicle and sent to a hospital by ambulance where she later died.
Meanwhile, while firefighters worked to extract Pearce, CHP officers questioned driver Nolan Reitz, who was found to be intoxicated. Green was pronounced dead at the scene.
Reitz was given a field sobriety test and failed. He was placed in handcuffs put into the back of the CHP vehicle and taken away.
Firefighters worked to cut the top of Pearce’s vehicle to get him out while he complained he couldn’t feel his legs.
He was taken to the hospital as the Jay Chapel hearse arrived to take Green away.
“Knowing it was staged, it wasn’t going through my head too much, but when I started thinking it as a friend, you’re never going to see him again,” Castaneda said. “I was going to text him and said I can’t. He’s gone.”
Students couldn’t take their eyes off the scene and were emotionally affected.
“We do this because we love you, we want you to come back to us,” Liberty High School Principal Kirk Delmas said.
The students reconvened Thursday for Green and Wunderlich’s funeral and to find out the consequences of the students’ actions.
“This will make me think twice,” Castaneda said. “It should make everyone think twice before getting into a situation like that.”