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Old February 28th, 2007, 07:26 AM   #1
MudGrl
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Default Teenage Drivers

How sad....

A parent's worst nightmare

Teen drivers, distractions are a deadly combination

Christine Ferretti / The Detroit News

LIVONIA -- Lori Bernth sifts through photos of better days: her son on a four-wheeler, wearing silly outfits, making goofy faces. They make her smile. They don't erase the mental snapshot of the last time she saw him alive.

It was Nov. 19 in an emergency room. James Hojnack, 16, a comedic Clarenceville High School sophomore, was bloodied and bandaged. Hours earlier, he was in the backseat, joyriding with three friends. By 4:30 a.m., Bernth made the toughest call of her life: Stop resuscitating.

"There was blood everywhere, and he was gone," the 40-year-old Redford Township mother said, pausing to cry. "I told them to please, stop working on him."

Her grief is unique, but her story isn't. Traffic experts say teen drivers -- and distractions -- increasingly are causing an epidemic on the roadways in Michigan and around the nation, leaving a trail of pain that can last a lifetime for Bernth and other survivors.

Thursday, she plans to sit in 16th District Court as prosecutors present their manslaughter case against Hojnack's friend, Jonathan Hannah. The 19-year-old was behind the wheel the night that began like thousands of others for teens everywhere.

It was Saturday night. They were bored and driving around, and a tragedy that rips apart nearly one Michigan family a day was born.

Traffic experts say new data increasingly raises alarms about young drivers and distractions. Last year, fatal crashes involving Michigan drivers ages 16-24 rose to 355 from 349 in 2005, the first increase after five years of declines.

A landmark study released in late January suggests inexperience and a proliferation of distractions such as cell phones and passengers present new, dangerous challenges. One in five teens reports being in at least one crash as a passenger in the past year, according to the study by Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and State Farm Insurance Co.

Young drivers are more likely to speed, overturn vehicles and hit trees, and less likely to be alone during crashes than any other age group, according to the Michigan State Police. They accounted for 15 percent of the state's drivers, but were behind the wheel in 23 percent of crashes in 2005.

"They really feel invincible and think nothing bad is going to happen to them," said Anne Readett, spokeswoman for the Michigan State Police Office of Highway Safety Planning. "Something a much older adult would shy away from in a heartbeat would not be a bad proposition to a teenager."

Replaying a nightmare

They were looking for something to do.

Hannah, a Detroit Redford High School dropout, rented a hotel room. The week before, he was in a crash in Redford Township, state records show. The day before, Hannah's car was impounded after he was arrested at Clarenceville and charged with loitering and possession of marijuana, said Livonia Lt. Greg Winn.

Hannah got his car back earlier that day when he bonded out on another drug-related offense. He invited friends over to the Dorchester Motel on Grand River between Seven Mile and Eight Mile roads in Redford Township.

Hojnack, an alternative education student with dreams of opening a skateboard shop, was there.

They listened to music. They watched television. Autopsy toxicology reports indicate Hojnack smoked marijuana. After the crash, Hannah was arrested for possession of the drug.

By 12:30 a.m., they had dropped off a few friends, leaving four in the 1998 Ford Explorer. They drove around and headed to a Wal-Mart around 2 a.m. It was closed, so Hannah drove across the street to the Meijer parking lot on Middle Belt near Interstate 96.

"The whole way there, he was driving fine. He wasn't speeding or swerving then in the parking lot there was a long, straight path and he started going really, really fast," said Jaimee Ascott, 15, of Redford Township, a passenger.

"James said 'slow down,' and we told him to stop. All the sudden, we were flipping."

Police reports indicate the car was traveling about 45 mph. It flipped twice, knocked over a tree and ejected Hojnack about 40 feet out the rear passenger window. He wasn't wearing a seat belt.

When the car stopped, Ascott crawled out of the broken window. Police reports indicate she and passenger Stacy Atkinson, 14, of Farmington Hills ran.

"I saw James lying on the pavement in a huge puddle of blood, and I was in complete shock. I didn't know what to say or do," Atkinson said.

The girls were scared and going for help, police reports say.

Hannah was over the body, yelling, "Stay with me," police reports show.

Meijer employees ran outside. Some approached Ascott, who had blood gushing from her forehead and a fractured ankle. She directed them to Hojnack.

"Go get James, I think he's dead," a Livonia police report quoted her as saying.

The rest is a blur of ambulances, police and a helicopter that flew Hojnack to University Hospital in Ann Arbor.

Within a few hours, Bernth knew what she had to do. He was too far gone.

She told doctors to stop working on her "baby," her "young and happy" second son.

'Lives are depending on you'

The crash is achingly familiar to Winston and other researchers involved in the Philadelphia study.

"It's a common situation to have someone a few years older driving around teens a few years younger -- it's a perfect setup for distractions," Winston said. "You need to be disciplined, concentrate and focus. Lives are depending on you."

Half the teenagers in the January report said young drivers routinely drive 10 mph over the speed limit; 41 percent said they've been passengers in cars driven by those who smoked marijuana; 75 percent reported they suffered from fatigue.

The aftershocks linger.

Bernth, a retail worker, visits a therapist weekly and said she "will never even be 50 percent over this." Her son's cremated remains sit atop the entertainment center in her living room in a wooden box decorated with oak trees and a rising sun. Surrounding it are angelic figurines and candles.

Her loss has turned to anger at Hannah. He's free on $1,000 bond and posting photos on his MySpace.com blog of drug paraphernalia, stacks of money and guns. Among the messages are "Jon just thanks God for lawyers," and "Expect another court delay then another and another."

Hannah faces up to 15 years in prison. He declined to comment, writing in an e-mail to The News that "I don't need any more heartache on this subject."

"To think, he's still at home and online at MySpace.com and walking the streets and working $1,000 is nothing for a life," Bernth said. "He got to spend Christmas and New Year's and Thanksgiving with his family. I was dealing with funerals and flowers and expenses."

Clarenceville eventually returned to normal after the crash, although it "was devastating to some of the kids on campus," Principal Paul Shepich said.

"You teach about it in that moment and have kids draw from it what they will," Shepich said. "You hope they will absorb this and make the right choices."

Hojnack's friends, like Clarenceville junior Rachel Hopkins, said the teen's death has influenced their "risky" behavior.

"He's had a big impact on everyone's life. None of us have forgotten," said Hopkins, 16. "We think about him every day."

So does his mom.

"I will never get him back, and no amount of time will ever make me feel better," Bernth said. "My son was taken from me in the flash of an eye. My children are my life. If I could change places with him, I would."

You can reach Christine Ferretti at (734) 462-2289 or cferretti@detnews.com.
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Old February 28th, 2007, 07:33 AM   #2
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:chiefwoohaw:

same shit different day
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Old February 28th, 2007, 08:05 AM   #3
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wow, I graduated from that shit hole.
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Old February 28th, 2007, 08:07 AM   #4
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Instead maybe the title should have read:

"Teen drivers, not wearing seatbelts are a deadly combination"
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Old February 28th, 2007, 08:11 AM   #5
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:chiefwoohaw:

same shit different day


X2
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Old February 28th, 2007, 08:21 AM   #6
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Instead maybe the title should have read:

"Teen drivers, not wearing seatbelts are a deadly combination"
"19 Year old Drop out Teen Driver High on Weed, Hanging out with High Schoolers and 14 Year old Girls at 2AM are a deadly combination"

2am? Come on what the hell is a 14 year old girl and a 16 year old boy doing out at 2am hanging out with a 19 year old drop out? Ending up dead that's what. Yup, I am sure plenty of us did the same thing, or tried to and we lived. But this poor kid didn't. Call me old fashioned or whatever, but although I fought my dad tooth and nail about curfews, riding with certain friends, running the roads, etc. He was right. Parents that allow their kids to do these sort of things are the parents that end up losing their children.
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Old February 28th, 2007, 08:37 AM   #7
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Originally Posted by UP_ROKTOY View Post
"19 Year old Drop out Teen Driver High on Weed, Hanging out with High Schoolers and 14 Year old Girls at 2AM are a deadly combination"

2am? Come on what the hell is a 14 year old girl and a 16 year old boy doing out at 2am hanging out with a 19 year old drop out? Ending up dead that's what. Yup, I am sure plenty of us did the same thing, or tried to and we lived. But this poor kid didn't. Call me old fashioned or whatever, but although I fought my dad tooth and nail about curfews, riding with certain friends, running the roads, etc. He was right. Parents that allow their kids to do these sort of things are the parents that end up losing their children.

I agree

The 60ties we grew up with parents that taught us if we steped out of line then you were punished.. end of story

Then in the 70ties and 80ties society said correcting a child was child abuse if you even stood them in a corner. and the kids knew it and used it on the parents,teachers, etc. I see my kids asking my grandkids do you want to go now?? WHAT? If your ready to go tell them to get there butt's in the car. and if they don't pull out the drive and make the walk up the drive and next time they will get in the car. (yes I know it would depend on where your at to be able to do this)

Kids outsmart adults every day! and rule to many homes in america.
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Old February 28th, 2007, 08:51 AM   #8
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Doesn't the new law for teen drivers restirct how many passengers of a certain age can be in the car?
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Old February 28th, 2007, 09:11 AM   #9
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My daughter is 15 right now and isn't allowed to ride in cars driven by teens except for the one girl she gets a ride to school from in the mornings. We've known her many years and she's a good driver. When my daughter turns 16 she will have the same rules I did. No passengers except for her younger brother and her parents for the first year. No driving after dark unless it's to come straight home from a job or home from a church youth event. Also no cell phone use while driving whatsoever. I think minimizing the number of distractions the first year they drive is key to them learning.

In this case, it's the parents fault for not supervising their children and letting them drive around with this drop out when they should have been at home hours earlier.
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Old February 28th, 2007, 09:31 AM   #10
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I'm with UPwaterToy and Calvyn&Hobbs
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Old February 28th, 2007, 09:55 AM   #11
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I'm with UPwaterToy and Calvyn&Hobbs
very clever Dave
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Old February 28th, 2007, 11:05 AM   #12
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That is sad. I try my best to drive good. My friend's say I drive like a grandma but oh well, I'd rather drive like a grandma than crash my Jeep. I hardly ever talk on a cell phone, I'm just not a fan of it. Plus it's kinda hypocritical. We all yell at people (one way or another) who drive crappy while talking on cell phones, then when we do we think we drive fine, no matter if we do or not.
Guess I think about it differently though, because for the first year or so of having my license I didn't want to drive unless absolutely needed. That's what having a crappy car that hardly gets you to your destination does to you.
But when I was 14 or 16 I had to be home by like 8 on school days, and 9 on the weekends, and I never hung out with people like a few years older than me. I'm still at my apartment by like 9, I just hate driving in the dark unless it's going across MI or something, open road and no traffic.
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Old February 28th, 2007, 11:11 AM   #13
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Besides what everyone else has posted (which I agree with), driver's training sucks.

They teach you what the throttle does and what the brake pedal does. They teach you road laws and rules. The driving log can easily be made up to get your license. They don't teach ANYTHING about defensive driving, keeping control of a vehicle, or anything similar. Hell, they don't even show you how to change a tire or check your oil.

Again, the real education and training is left up to the parents. I think that has to change. These people are crying for their children, but they should be crying for the fact they didn't do what they were supposed to.
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Old February 28th, 2007, 11:16 AM   #14
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Besides what everyone else has posted (which I agree with), driver's training sucks.

They teach you what the throttle does and what the brake pedal does. They teach you road laws and rules. The driving log can easily be made up to get your license. They don't teach ANYTHING about defensive driving, keeping control of a vehicle, or anything similar. Hell, they don't even show you how to change a tire or check your oil.

Again, the real education and training is left up to the parents. I think that has to change. These people are crying for their children, but they should be crying for the fact they didn't do what they were supposed to.

I went to a driving school to get my license (here in MI) they taught us how to check oil, change a tire, defensive driving all of that. It's just what class the kids are sent to.
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Old February 28th, 2007, 11:18 AM   #15
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I went to a driving school to get my license (here in MI) they taught us how to check oil, change a tire, defensive driving all of that. It's just what class the kids are sent to.
I guess so then. I went to one offered by my high school seven years ago and it was terrible. I don't know if the outside ones are any different, but it seems that the high school ones are the crappy ones.
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Old February 28th, 2007, 11:19 AM   #16
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Yeah, that's true. In Cali (where I got my license and went through driver's training) I drove a total of like 3 hours in my life and passed the test with no errors. The written one I think I got like 2 wrong. All you have to do there is drive around the block, park on the side of a street, back up a few feet and then drive back. No parallel parking, no freeway, nothing like that. I kinda learned how to drive defensively because my dad has always told me you have to drive for everyone else, not just yourself.
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Old February 28th, 2007, 11:19 AM   #17
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I kinda learned how to drive defensively because my dad has always told me you have to drive for everyone else, not just yourself.
That's a good quote.
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Old February 28th, 2007, 11:43 AM   #18
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I went to a driving school to get my license (here in MI) they taught us how to check oil, change a tire, defensive driving all of that. It's just what class the kids are sent to.
Did you have to pay to go through the driving school though?
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Old February 28th, 2007, 11:46 AM   #19
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Did you have to pay to go through the driving school though?
Yes. It was offered through my school for free, but my birthday was 4 days after their cutoff date to get in, so I paid for a class because my parents requirement was I had to drive with them for a year before I could get my license. That and it also allowed me to circumvent the graduated licensing program, because that was enacted the following year (when the school said I had to take it).
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Old February 28th, 2007, 11:47 AM   #20
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Did you have to pay to go through the driving school though?

In 1976:tonka: nope was free through the Schools. but we did have to watch a movie with Accident in it that showed people getting hurt, Made you think when you got behind the wheel. now they can no longer show these films because it disturbed the Kids...... Ya its supose to
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