Saturday, September 14, 2002

Patrol focuses on teen driver

By Erica Solvig,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The Ohio State Highway Patrol is stepping up efforts to make teen drivers slow down after a series of crashes killed seven Tristate teens and injured nearly a dozen others in less than a month.

        Starting Sunday, the highway patrol will refocus its manpower in an effort to curb teen speeding and lack of seatbelt use. During the next two months, officers will concentrate on roads near Greater Cincinnati schools at key times — when students are coming and going from school, extracurricular activities, dances and athletic events.

   Car crashes in recent weeks include:
   Four Goshen High School students were killed Aug. 12 when a 1995 Geo Prizm swerved out of control on Ohio 28 in Clinton County and struck a fence post and a tree. None of the victims — Jennifer McRoberts, 16, Tasha Schnelle, 17, Lester Smith, 16, and Jessie E. King, 16, — was wearing a seatbelt. Two of their classmates survived.
   Walton-Verona student Garrett Peterson, 17, from Crittenden, died Aug. 27 when he lost control on a curve near Walton and hit a truck.
   Lebanon High School juniors Katie Aylor and Brandi Cook died Aug. 27 after Brandi, 16, lost control of her 1999 Ford Escort in Turtlecreek Township and crossed into the path of a Mack truck. Speed on the 55-mph road was a factor.
   Seven teens were ejected from a 1998 Ford Explorer Sept. 6 when the driver — 16-year-old Molly Wilson — lost control and caused the vehicle to roll in Warren County's Clearcreek Township. Initial reports suggest the teens were traveling 93 mph in a 55-mph zone.
        “You go on any of these roads right now, and it's like a racetrack sometimes,” said Staff Lt. Jeff Greene of the highway patrol's Southwest Ohio district. “We're losing a lot of lives in Ohio, and most of it is needlessly.”

        The enforcement initiative, in 10 Southwest Ohio counties, ends Nov. 15. During that time, Lt. Greene said, troopers not only expect to hand out citations, but they hope their presence after school and at football games will force students to drive safely.

        Troopers are partnering with schools, and some officials — including those from Lebanon, Kings, Waynesville and Mason high schools — say they will temporarily suspend driving privileges and parking passes for students receiving tickets.

        Kings High School Principal Tom Higgins has made several announcements to students urging them to drive responsibly.

        Lakota East junior Missy Dunn, who's had her license for about five months, said it's not uncommon to see students peel out of the parking lots after school or drive fast.

        “A lot of my guy friends, they always race,” said the 16-year-old from Liberty Township. “It's just them joking around, but I think it's dangerous.”

        Missy and her friend Jill Gregory, a Lakota East sophomore, say many teen drivers don't always consider the possible consequences.

        “I guess most people think they're controlling about it,” said Jill, a 15-year-old from West Chester who has had her temporary driving permit since July. “I think they don't think anything could happen to them.”

        The last few weeks have proved otherwise.

        Four Goshen High School students who were not wearing seatbelts died Aug. 12. On Aug. 27, a 17-year-old Walton-Verona student and two Lebanon High School juniors died in separate car crashes.

        Other accidents, including one last weekend in Warren County's Clearcreek Township, have left teenagers seriously injured.

        “I don't think you can do a whole lot just with education,” said Lt. Mike Sanders with the Warren County highway patrol post. “I think there needs to be enforcement and some understanding that you are going to have to pay.”

        Some high school students, like sophomore Kyle Finuf, believe police presence should make an impact.

        “A lot of people speed around here,” the 15-year-old said as he sat outside Kings High School. “But if they saw a lot of cops around, they'll slow down. ... I don't think anybody cares until they see the cops.”

        While the Kentucky State Police is not launching an enforcement program like Ohio's, the agency does evaluate accident and traffic data to determine where troopers should focus their efforts, said spokesman Lt. Lisa Rudzinski.

        The highway patrol is not the only agency trying to stop teen speeders.

        For instance, 4-H CARTeen sessions are court-mandated when teenagers are have a traffic violations. When surveyed, some teens admitted to going as fast as 114 mph in a 35 mph zone, said James Jordan, extension agent for 4-H youth development.

        CARTeen is preparing a “Speed is Killing your Teenager!” display for the Oct. 19 Lakota East versus Lakota West football game. From noon until 5 p.m., parents and students will be able to read the information and get an up-close look at cars that were involved in fatal accidents.

        “What we're hoping we get accomplished is for parents to start talking to their teens who drive because too many teenagers have lost their lives,” Mr. Jordan said. “Every driver in Butler County ought to be concerned because we're sharing the roads with them.”

        Beth Markiewicz of West Chester welcomes the increased efforts. She is cautious about which teen drivers her daughter Lindsey, 15, a Lakota East sophomore, is allowed to ride with.

        “They get excited, they put the tops down, they've got the music blaring and they show off,” the 38-year-old mother of two said. “The more monitoring the better.”


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