Thursday, August 17, 2000

'Hill-hopping' driver to get treatment

16-year-old sentenced for fatal crash

By Jane Prendergast
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The teen driver in a deadly Delhi Township “hill-hopping” wreck was sent Wednesday to live in a treatment program for girls who make errors in judgment.

        The 16-year-old also is to appear in a locally produced video about the dangers of teen driving and will have to work at charities chosen by the families of the two girls who died in the June 9 crash. She won't be licensed again to drive until she's 21.

        The Cincinnati Enquirer is not naming the girl because she is a juvenile.

        The girl's mother sobbed Wednesday morning in Hamilton County Juvenile Court as her daughter was led away in handcuffs to Passages, a treatment program run by the social service agency Talbert House.

        The girl will live and go to school at the Cincinnati facility, a year-old program designed to help teen-age girls with issues like egocentrism and reacting without thinking.

        Juvenile Court Judge Sylvia Hendon stressed to the girl that her actions that June day were not accidental, that her decision to “hill-hop” in her Jeep with with 11 kids in her car was a conscious decision. Doing so hurt dozens of people beyond imagination, the judge said, and exposed the girl's own parents to financial ruin.

        “Never lose sight of the fact,” she said, “that it was a decision, not an accident, to


        Kelli Ridenour and Anna DeStefano, both 13, were the last two to get into the Jeep that day. They were headed to a pool party when the driver took a Hillside Avenue route popular for driving fast and going airborne over the hills. She had done it earlier in the day, too, but without such consequences.

        Kelli's father, Doug, asked the judge to put the driver in a facility until she's 21 or until experienced counselors at the program determine she has learned enough to go home.

        “You cannot imagine the pain that's been brought to our entire family,” he said.

        At Passages, the girl will get a treatment plan geared to her specific problems, a spokeswoman for the agency said. She eventually will be allowed to leave the facility on temporary passes. The program is designed to last three to six months.

        The girl is remorseful about the accident, said her attorney, David Parker, and wants to get the message out about teen driving by talking to any school group that will have her. She also wants to appear in a film about the subject being put together by TriHealth, a local hospital group.

        “She wants to give back,” Mr. Parker said. “She is aware of what she has done.”

        Judge Hendon initially sentenced the girl to a minimum of 2 1/2 years' commitment to the state Department of Youth Services. She suspended that, however, in favor of the Passages program.

        If the girl violates any part of the program, the judge told her she would revoke the suspended sentence and make her serve the time in DYS.

        The judge also ordered the girl to pay $1,250 in fines — $250 for each charge. She pleaded guilty last month to two counts of aggravated vehicular homicide and three counts of vehicular assault.

        Judge Hendon told her it is important for her to pay the money, not her parents.


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