A Madera teen being ribbed about not driving straight playfully jerked her steering wheel, resulting in a 2007 crash that killed her boyfriend.
A Stockton woman spent seven months behind bars for a hit-and-run crash that killed a man in 2012. She was looking at her phone, texting her then-boyfriend, when she veered off a country road and struck the man, not even realizing she'd done so.
An 18-year-old from Stockton is charged with manslaughter, DUI and child endangerment in connection with a live-streamed crash in Merced County that killed her 15-year-old sister.
In trying to hammer home to students the often-tragic consequences of bad decisions by drivers and passengers, presenters at a Turlock High School assembly Thursday morning didn't have to look far, or even very far back, for examples. The crash north of Los Banos that killed Jacqueline Sanchez happened in just July, and her sister Obdulia has a tentative trial date set in December.
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Modesto-area California Highway Patrol Officer Thomas Olsen shared his painful recollection of being at the scene of a texting-related crash that killed a small boy. A passing driver recognized the vehicle involved as one of his family's cars, so stopped and frantically inquired about where the boy was. He didn't realize he lay covered on the ground, just feet from him.
The Impact Teen Drivers assembly is one of the ways law enforcement and safety professionals across the country are marking National Teen Driver Safety Week, Oct. 15-21.
Nationwide in 2015, 1,972 drivers ages 15 to 18 were involved in fatal collisions, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In 2015 that year, 283 teens were behind the wheel at the time of fatal collisions, and 63 percent of those young drivers were at fault.
In Turlock on Thursday, even Assistant Principal Aaron Mello briefly talked about coming across the scene of a distracted-driving crash that killed two friends.
Note that in all these cases, the word used is "crash," not "accident."
The difference was explained to the audience of high school seniors by Rena Lepard, a registered nurse who is the injury-prevention coordinator for trauma services at Doctors Medical Center of Modesto and coordinator of Safe Kids Stanislaus. You're driving along and a tree falls onto your car. There was no way to predict or prevent it, she said, making it an accident.
Choosing to put on lip balm while driving is another matter. "Is it predictable I could get into a car crash by making that choice?" she asked the students, getting an answer of "yes." "Could I prevent that from happening? Yeah, don't put on my Chapstick while I'm driving."
And vehicle "crashes," the teens were told, are 100 percent preventable by making smart choices as a driver and as a passenger, who also may shoulder some of the responsibility when a situation on the road goes south, the teens were told.
In the 2007 Madera crash, Danica Lacy was driving with boyfriend Donovan Tessmer and two other boys in the back seat. The boys were horseplaying, the music was loud. Lacy was driving too fast on a dark, rural road.
"Can't you keep this car going straight?" Tessmer teased.
"You mean like this?" Lacy said in reply as she turned the steering wheel a bit.
That was all it took for her to lose control. The Toyota Corolla went into a slide and off the road, hitting a tree, then another.
The boys were ejected. Tessmer was believed to have been killed instantly, and another was badly hurt. In a Fresno Bee article, Tessmer's mother, Martha, said she doesn’t fault Lacy: “There was no malicious intent.” The boys made a second bad decision by not wearing seat belts, and she said they could have spoken up and asked Lacy to slow down.
Lacy could have faced charges in the crash, Lepard said, and though she did not, "she gave herself a life sentence." At every milestone in her life — high school and college graduation, getting married, having children — there's the reminder that Donovan Tessmer never got to experience those things.
Maria Coyner, the Stockton woman whose distracted driving cost Christopher Tietjen his life in 2012, told the assembled students that she, too, carries that life sentence.
And in addition to the shame and guilt she's carried, there are other repercussions to her choice behind the wheel, she said. Last year, she told a similar Waterford student assembly, she was studying to be a veterinarian, inspired by fulfilling community service hours working in an animal shelter.
But she told the Turlock students Thursday that she's found her felony conviction prohibits her from practicing medicine, whether human or animal.
Lepard told the students there's often no "reset button" when things go bad behind the wheel. "When we make these bad decisions, that's it, they're done."