Saturday, November 23, 2002

Meeting a need

Clinics for teen drivers filling up


Kenzie Comisar would have celebrated her 18th birthday this week.

Her mom and dad hoped her special day would always make happy memories.

Instead, her grieving parents spent the day wondering how to honor her memory.

Kenzie died in a one-car accident in August. Excessive speed, alcohol and drugs were ruled out as causes of the crash.

Her name went on a list that tragically keeps growing this year as car crashes claim the lives of Tristate teens.

Kenzie's mom and dad, Paula and Marc Comisar, want to make sure their daughter's life is honored by a meaningful memorial - clinics that help teens avoid accidents and save lives.

Clinic plans

Marc told me their goal is to form a foundation to place these clinics in schools throughout Greater Cincinnati. Make them a permanent part of the curriculum. Raise the awareness and the quality of driver's education. Make everyone realize this course is truly vital.

"That's what we hope to get started,." Marc said.

They already have a good head start.

Working with Pam Boynton, the mother of Kenzie's best friend, they contracted David Thompson. He founded the New Driver Car Control Clinic in Melbourne, Fla.

On weekends, he and his staff conduct hands-on accident avoidance clinics across the country for parent-teen teams.

Yes, parents must attend.

Each clinic trains 40 teams. The cost per team for classroom and in-car training: $125.

The clinics get results. In a random sample, 229 Florida clinic graduates had 61 percent fewer accidents over the last three years than average teen drivers.

My Oct. 29 column gauging local interest in the clinics also got results.

In two days, Pam received 183 calls from interested parents. Corporate donations poured in to cover the clinic's set-up costs and fund scholarships for needy families.

One clinic, Dec. 6-8 at Indian Hill High School, is sold out.

Openings remain for a Dec. 13-15 clinic at Princeton High School.

Additional clinics are planned for the spring. Interested? Call 381-TEEN (381-8336), a local hot line set up by Pam and the Comisars. Or phone the clinic's headquarters, (800) 862-3277.

David Thompson calls Cincinnati's response to the clinic "staggering."

He added: "You touched a nerve."

That nerve is raw. Across America, auto accidents are the leading cause of death among teens.

In the Tristate, these deaths have reached epidemic proportions.

One week to the day after my column ran about Kenzie and the clinics, two Princeton High School students died in an auto accident. They were 16 and 17 years old.

That day, still more calls landed in Pam's voice mail. She heard from "parents who lost a child." Victims' friends called. A teen offered to donate money he saved from his job so classmates could go to the clinic. And stay alive.

For Kenzie

Marc Comisar, his wife and Pam have assured me they are not doing this for any glory. They just want to save lives.

"That's how," he said, "we can honor Kenzie."

That's how he's coping with his grief.

"You can't fold up the tent," he said. "You have to go on and do what is right."

Kenzie was not a quitter. She was a doer.

So, she would have wanted her parents and her best friend's mom to be involved with the clinics.

She would be proud that they are doing their part to make sure teen-age drivers keep having birthdays.

Call Cliff Radel at 768-8379; or e-mail:

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