Program's focus: Safe teen driving

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By John Barnhart

Ben Creasey, at a teen driving presentation at Staunton River High School recently, recounted the worst night of his life.

It was exactly four years ago last month and a friend came to his house to tell him his daughter, Ginni, had been in a crash. Creasey initially thought the damage was limited to the car. His wife, Crystal thought the same.

"I kept saying, 'Now Ben, don't fuss at her. This is her first wreck,'" she recalled saying.

She also recalls going numb when they got to the crash site. There were lots of emergency vehicles blocking the road, their first sign that it was a lot worse than they thought.

Ben Creasey was directed to a spot where he could park his vehicle. He left his wife and younger daughter in the SUV he was driving, and started walking up the road. As he got closer, he heard screaming.

It was night, but the scene was brilliantly illuminated with floodlights. He saw a Jeep Grand Cherokee off the road, on one side. Firefighters were working to cut it open so they could get the driver out.

Then, he looked to the other side of the road and saw his 17-year-old daughter's vehicle.

"I see her in the driver's seat," he told the audience. "She was dead."

"I can't explain what it feels like," he went on to say.

Creasey said that he spent six years in the Marine Corps, but that sight shot all the toughness out of him.

Ginni Creasey had four other teens in the car with her that night, one more than she could legally carry at her age. She had gone off the road and overcorrected in an effort to get back on the pavement. This caused her to lose control and she crossed over into the path of the Grand Cherokee. Two of her passengers also died that night.

"The next thing I had to do is go back down to the Jeep and tell my wife and other daughter what I found," Creasey said.

"Don't put your parents through that," he urged the teen drivers in the audience.

"Parents, do though love," he urged. "You can go to DMV and have a license taken away."

Creasey was actually the last speaker at the Partners for Safe Teen Driving presentation at Staunton River. This program was held at all three county high schools. Other parents who have lost a teen in a crash have spoken at others. Tim Groover, who also lost a daughter in a crash, spoke at the presentation held at Jefferson Forest. Both men have been active in promoting teen safety.

Creasey's talk served as a reality check, pointing to what can happen. The goal, of course, is to make sure it doesn't and the program, a partnership between local law enforcement and the county's school division provided information aimed at parents whose teens will soon get behind the wheel.

Car crashes, noted Phyllis Buckner, the retired driver's ed teacher who pulled the program together, is the leading cause of death for teens. Two out of three teens killed in crashes are not wearing seatbelts and 32 percent of teenaged passengers killed in the crash were in a car driven by a 16 or 17-year-old driver.

Teen safety starts with parents. Buckner said that teens, whose parents have had three or more crashes, are 22 percent more likely to have a wreck themselves. It's important for parents to set a good example by modeling proper driving etiquette and always wearing a seatbelt. Parents should also avoid speeding, using a cell phone while driving, eating or drinking while driving or consuming alcoholic drinks before getting behind the wheel.

"Be a good role model," Buckner said.

Parents also decide if their teen is mature enough to handle the responsibility of driving. Mike Johnson, one of the school division's road test instructors, said that the school can certify that a student has met the objectives for a 180 day provisional license. However, the school can only issue it with the student's parents' permission. Otherwise, it's mailed to the parents. Johnson said that they really like the parents to come to the school the day their teen qualifies. He also pointed out that there is a paragraph that states that a parent can take the provisional license away.

Buckner urged parents to set rules. Adults know the dangers that exist on the highway and parents should restrict their teens if they think their teens can't handle it. She also suggested that they set up a code word that their teens can use in order to call home and let them know that they need a ride, rather than getting in a car driven by a teen with whom they are uncomfortable.

George Cooper, a local State Farm agent, reminded everybody that insurance for teens is higher because they are inexperienced. However, he said that some insurance companies, including State Farm, provide discounts for students who maintain at least a B average.

He also warned the teens in the audience about what to do if a deer jumps out in front of you.

"They [deer] give better than a tree or a guardrail will," he said. "Don't swerve to miss a deer."

And don't even think about having a drink if you're a teenage driver.

Officer Robert Monk pointed out that the a teenaged driver who has a blood alcohol level of .02 will be charged with DUI. The legal limit is much lower for them. After all, they can't legally possess alcohol and Monk said that, when a teen gets a DUI charge, an underage alcohol possession charge is added.

Speeding and aggressive driving is also a serious problem, stated Monk, adding that he has had to write a summons for someone driving as fast as 105 mph.

Sergeant David Marsh, of the Bedford County Sheriff's Office, said that he has ticketed teen drivers for doing 55 in a 25 mph zone, in a subdivision. Local law enforcement officers have also issued summonses for crossing a double yellow line in an effort to pass a slow moving vehicle.

A ticket is a lot better than a family having experience what the Creaseys did that night, four years ago. They've tried to make the best of a bad situation. Both Crystal Creasey and their daughter, Laurie, now 16, have joined the a rescue squad and Crystal said that her daughter wants to be an EMT in order to save lives. Ben Creasey is on the Stewartsville Volunteer Fire Department.

"I'm really proud of her," Crystal said. "She understands what it's like to lose somebody."

Another step they've taken is set up an organization to loan musical instruments to youth who can't afford them. Crystal said that Ginni Creasey loved being in Staunton River's marching band and the organization accepts donations of instruments on her behalf. For more information on this go to www.ginnimarcheson.org.