Dozens of Calaveras High School students stumbled and groped wildly at thin air while surrounded by law enforcement officials Friday at the Calaveras County Superior Court.
The criminal justice class participated in a demonstration hosted by the Calaveras County District Attorney's Office, featuring officers from the Angels Camp Police Department and California Highway Patrol.
They used "impairment goggles" to simulate a blood-alcohol content of .08 while performing field sobriety tests, re-enacted real-life scenarios that led to minors' conviction on drug- and alcohol-related charges after traffic stops and witnessed a sentencing in a felony DUI hit-and-run case.
A slide show presentation on fines for various offenses compared costs to popular items with many teens such as iPhones, Xboxes, laptop computers, and in the case of felony DUI causing injury, a brand new car.
The re-enactments intended to bring home the message that any mixture of drug use and driving can lead to long-lasting consequences. A girl got arrested for marijuana possession after her passenger refused to take ownership for drugs in the glove box during a stop for a broken tail light in one scenario.
"You're (legally) responsible for everything inside your car," Angels Camp Police Officer Jim McKeon noted. "Even your friends."
The girl paid a $250 fine for the infraction but also had to take a semester off from college when she could no longer commute to classes because of a suspended license, added Calaveras County Deputy District Attorney Mauro Quintero.
Quintero joined the DA's Office last year through a $160,000 state Office of Traffic Safety grant given to Calaveras County in part because it has the highest rate statewide of fatal collisions of drivers between the ages of 21 and 34 who have been drinking.
Friday's presentation is part of the educational component of the grant, Quintero said.
In another sketch based on real events, students portrayed a 21-year-old man and his 18-year-old brother who each drank at a party. The nearly unconscious older brother tried to drive away before the younger man, who had just "three or four beers" took over. An officer witnessed it all, made a stop for expired tabs and eventually arrested both for DUI.
"Mom was happily surprised when she received two phone calls," a sarcastic Quintero quipped.
McKeon told the class the first fatal DUI scene he responded to featured an 18-year-old driver in Stanislaus County who fell asleep at the wheel driving two relatives home. The man had been the least intoxicated of the trio but remains imprisoned today after having killed both members of his family, he said.
During the field sobriety tests, students wobbled their way through simple tasks.
"Everything's so far away," Brent Cook, 16, a sophomore from Valley Springs, said after taking off the goggles. "I took them off and (a classmate) was like 5 feet away but it felt like he was 40."
Though each wearer did appear obviously impaired, CHP Officer Rebecca Myers explained that one test, for horizontal gaze nystagmus, is impossible to "beat" as it reveals involuntary eye movements caused by drunkenness or a drugged state.
The class moved from the unused courtroom next door to Department 1 for the sentencing of a 26-year-old man who Quintero said asked for the opportunity to address the class. Lucky Marcum, a Tuolumne resident, had been convicted of felony DUI causing injury, hit-and-run and possession of hydrocodone without a prescription after striking another vehicle with a woman, her boyfriend and 7-year-old son inside on an October night in Angels Camp, he said.
Marcum said he has spent nearly six years, almost a quarter of his life, locked up due to addiction to drugs and alcohol. He first smoked marijuana at age 11, tried methamphetamine at 12 and got arrested at school for possessing marijuana and cocaine at 13, he said.
"I cried like the little boy that I was, in front of all the cool kids," he said, admitting he had been "scared" during that arrest.
An abusive father and one relapse after another with drugs landed him in juvenile detention and later prison again and again, Marcum related.
"I hated myself and where I was going with my life but felt powerless to do anything about it … I lost my family and all of my true friends as well as any respect for myself," he said. "Nothing in the world can give a person's lost time back … Do you want to walk the path of life that I have? I truly hope not."
Superior Court Judge John Martin also reiterated that just one lapse of judgement can have life-altering consequences.
When someone dies in an alcohol-related crash, "you have killed them dead just as sure as if you had put a gun to their head and pulled the trigger," Martin said. "You can be charged with murder and spend the rest of your life in prison."
The day's events struck Alyssa Brabbin, 17, a junior from West Point.
"Drinking and driving, it's the worst," Brabbin said. "You can go to prison for it and you can kill innocent people."