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News Feature

Blue Hill
Originally published in The Weekly Packet, May 10, 2018
Every 15 Minutes sends powerful message

Injured

Portraying an accident victim, junior LeeAnn Varnum is removed from the vehicle by emergency responders May 3 at Every 15 Minutes at George Stevens Academy.

Photo by Anne Berleant Order prints of selected PBP photos.

by Monique Labbe

One teenager is killed every 15 minutes by an impaired or distracted driver. That statistic is the core focus of the Every 15 Minutes program, which sophomore, junior and senior students at George Stevens Academy took part in May 3 and 4.

The event began with the Grim Reaper pulling one student out of class every 15 minutes. Those students are dubbed The Walking Dead and are not to talk to or interact with peers or teachers for the remainder of the program, and the obituaries for each are read aloud as they leave the classroom. The day ended with the students observing a live mock car crash, where a student playing an inebriated driver kills another student.

The Walking Dead, as well as the students involved in the crash, spent the night away from their families and friends and reunited the following day.

Junior Bess MacArthur played the role of the fatality in the crash as local responders used the Jaws of Life to extricate her and the “living” victim, junior LeAnn Varnum, from the vehicle. Varnum was taken away by ambulance while MacArthur was removed from the car under a blanket. Her parents, Kathy and Gordon MacArthur, then identified their daughter at the scene.

Meanwhile, the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office conducted a field sobriety test on the impaired driver, played by senior Marshall Lebel. He failed the test and, as the majority of the student body looked on, was led away in handcuffs and taken to the Hancock County Jail in Ellsworth.

“It was super impactful,” said sophomore Jaiden Dennison, whose father, Blue Hill Fire Chief Matt Dennison, was on the scene for the mock crash. “Seeing what [my dad] has to go through for something like that, it’s intense.”

Dennison was also one of The Walking Dead, an experience she said will stick with her.

“I definitely think this will have a big impact on all of us,” she said.

The program finished with a mock funeral service for MacArthur in front of the students who had observed the crash the day before. Bess’s parents were also in attendance, as their daughter was “laid to rest.”

“As a mother, this is my worst nightmare,” said Kathy MacArthur in her daughter’s eulogy.

MacArthur’s best friend, junior Mallory Charette, was also one of The Walking Dead, and spoke during the mock funeral. The emotions in the moment, she said, were unexpected.

“I was with [Bess] last night, so while I was writing the speech I was like ‘oh I won’t cry.’ But then being next to the casket, it definitely made it feel real. It was a pretty emotional experience,” said Charette.

After the funeral, the students were reintroduced to their classmates and families. Many were tearful as they joined together.

While the emotions and experiences have an immediate emotional impact on students, GSA Head of School Tim Seeley is hopeful that the effect of the program will remain months and even years after the fact.

“We hope that it’s something the kids will keep with them,” he said. “That maybe it will make them think twice before checking their phones. Drunk driving is definitely a problem, but distracted driving in teenagers is a serious issue.”

Seeley said he plans to do a survey next year to ask the students if the effects of the program still linger.

“That’s what we’re most interested in, is to see the long-term effects,” he said. “It’s a powerful program, and I hope the students keep what they’ve experienced in their minds.”

Pall bearers

Members of the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office lead the procession during the staged memorial service.

Photo by Monique Labbe
Injured

Portraying an accident victim, junior LeeAnn Varnum is removed from the vehicle by emergency responders May 3 at Every 15 Minutes at George Stevens Academy.

Photo by Anne Berleant
Words about Bess

Ian Ramsey talks about his memories with Bess MacArthur during her staged memorial service.

Photo by Monique Labbe
Arrest

Senior Marshal Lebel, portraying the driver at fault, is led away in handcuffs by a Hancock County sheriff’s deputy May 3 at Every 15 Minutes at George Stevens Academy.

Photo by Anne Berleant
Body bag

Mock funeral directors remove the victim in a staged accident scene prior to identification by parents May 3 at Every 15 Minutes at George Stevens Academy.

Photo by Anne Berleant
Clear emotions

Kathy and Gordon MacArthur mourn the loss of their daughter Bess during the staged memorial service.

Photo by Monique Labbe