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Reality theater shows the threats of alcohol and drugs

Published: Thursday, March 17, 2011

Updated: Thursday, March 17, 2011 15:03

Ericka Knowles, 14, of Heritage Middle School acts dead during a demonstration of a preventable car

Jennifer M. Ytuarte

Ericka Knowles, 14, of Heritage Middle School acts dead during a demonstration of a preventable car accident for "The 99" March 4. In the scenario, four teens are on their way to prom when they have a front end collision with an SUV carrying a family of four. The impact ejects Ericka from the vehicle. Spectators walk through the exhibit while the driver in the SUV tries to dial 911 before dying.

Annabelle Rivera, 15; Liz Marie Serrano, 13; Abigail Montalvo, Latin American Bible Institute youth

Jennifer M. Ytuarte

Annabelle Rivera, 15; Liz Marie Serrano, 13; Abigail Montalvo, Latin American Bible Institute youth ministry sophomore; and Joseph Rivera, 14, act like drug addicts during "The 99" as they pretend to smoke marijuana and snort cocaine in a crackhouse. Rivera thrashes on the bed, pregnant and in pain, ignored while those nearby get high.

Ninety-nine stands for the 99 preventable causes that young adults 10-24 die from each day.

Thirty-one die in auto-related accidents, 16 die from homicide or domestic violence, 12 are victims of suicide and 38 die of drug overdose.

These preventable deaths claim the lives of 37,000 young adults each year.

The 99, a Christian reality theater, displays 13 rooms of what drunk driving, drug overdose, gang violence and suicide look like.

The event is open from 7 p.m.- 11 p.m. today to Sunday at Northwest Stadium 14 Theaters at 7600 W. Interstate 10. Admission is $10, but with a discount ticket available at the door, it's only $3.

The 99 event occurs in 16 cities a year with a group of 13 to 14 volunteers from across the country. Each time the group visits a city, they ask for about 250 volunteers from local churches to help put on the production.

It takes 75 volunteer actors and more than 250 volunteers for the production each night.

Priscilla Elizalde, music freshman at Palo Alto College, from Made Through Fire Ministries, volunteered to be a screamer in hell March 4.

Hell is one of the 13 rooms that show viewers the result of their decisions if they make the choices displayed in the room.

To prepare for the role, Elizalde's hair was teased, she was dressed in dirty rags, her eyes and mouth were covered with layers of black makeup and her face and body painted with red stripes.

Elizalde was locked in a dark room surrounded with demons, while she and her fellow companions were trapped in cages screaming in aggravation.

Elizalde volunteered because she wanted to encourage her peers to live a better life. She said most young people her age encourage partying and drugs, but there are "consequence for everything you do."

When she was 13 years old, Elizalde said she was involved in drugs.

"I was being rebellious," she said.

"All my life I grew up a Christian," and doing this conflicted with her beliefs. "I don't want to go through life with an addiction. God wants better for me," she said.

The devil, better known as Jonathan Crutchfield, business administration and computer information systems sophomore at this college, said he heard of The 99 at his church, City of Refuge Christian. He said he was asked to volunteer and also was recruited to be in hell.

"If I could reach one person, it would be awesome," he said.

He passed out 2,000 tickets at this campus to let people know of the event.

Crutchfield, who was in the Navy for five years, saw a lot of drug usage and violence but does not participate.

Elvira Carias, criminal justice freshman at Palo Alto, played a gang member who beats a young person to death.

Carias, who is named in memory of her grandmother, said she stays away from drugs and alcohol because her grandmother was hit and killed by a drunken driver.

"I have so much going on in my life that I don't want to kill my brain cells," she said.

Production manager Justin Christensen, 28, has been with The 99 for 3 1/2 years. He said he travels to 16 cities a year and gets two weeks off for Christmas.

He said most nights about 3,000 people attend.

Larry Marruffo, a 99 staff member, said they have passed out 200,000 tickets in San Antonio.

Christensen said they use three gallons of fake blood each night on volunteers.

The most memorable rooms in The 99 are the crack house and the car crash scene.

In the crack house, six to eight volunteers act like tweekers, people who use methamphetamines.

In the room, there is also a person who has just overdosed on drugs and is dead, but nobody notices. There is a pregnant woman in pain and a young girl vomiting in the toilet.

The entire room is trashed with garbage, needles and has a meth lab.

What viewers will remember though is the poignant smell of herbs that resembles the odor of marijuana.

Marruffo said in one city an 11-year-old girl saw the meth lab and was shaken up by the entire room.

Marruffo said he pulled her aside to ask her if she was all right and the girl told him she lived like that every day. Her mother made meth in their kitchen.

The car crash room resembles a real car crash scene where a passenger is lying on the hood of a party car.

The driver who was drinking and driving is also dead in the car.

In the scene, the other vehicle involved also includes a dead mother, son and baby. The father who is barely alive tries to call 911 but dies before he can let them know his family is pain.

Tina Garza, 34, took her daughter Gabby Garza, 15, to see The 99 March 4. During the entire event Gabby held close to her mom especially in the car crash room. After the tour Gabby was able to talk the counselor, and she was in tears.

Tina said she doesn't expose her daughter to any of the things in the rooms, but when Gabby got a good look at the car crash, it all began to feel so real.

"It's reality, but it shook me up," Gabby said.

At the end of The 99, guests are able to talk to a counselor. In the end after talking to the counselor, Gabby wrote a prayer for her father, who is a solider, for God to keep him safe.

For more information on The 99, visit www.whatisthe99.com.

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