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Teen Drivers Still Not Getting Safety Message

Posted March 10, 2008
Updated March 11, 2008

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— Another memorial banner sat on a table in the lobby of Princeton High School on Monday for students to write messages for another classmate whose life had been cut short.

This time, the words "We'll miss you" were for Katlyn Bell, who died in a fatal car wreck Sunday evening in Smithfield.

The honors student – president of the Beta Club — and member of the yearbook staff was supposed to graduate in the spring and major in interior design at Meredith College.

But Sunday night, according to the North Carolina Highway Patrol, she pulled her car in front of a Ford Explorer at the intersection of Brogden and Old Sanders roads. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

Bell, 18, was the third senior at the school killed in a fatal wreck in less than a year.

In September, Gilbert Michael Martin, 17, was killed in a single-vehicle crash – authorities blamed excessive speed and worn tires. In April, James Cook, 20, was on his way to pick up his prom tuxedo when he ran a stop sign and was hit by a pickup truck and killed.

Johnston County law enforcement officials say the number of auto-related teen deaths is alarming – in 2007, the county led the state with 11 fatalities. In comparison, neighboring Harnett County had two fatalities, while Wake and Wayne counties each had one.

Authorities say growth in the county combined with winding rural roads, where students are not paying enough attention, are factors in the high rate of fatalities.

That's why Johnston County sheriff's deputies say they are stepping up patrols as part of Operation Safe Teens and talking with the Johnston County School District about educational programs to reduce speeding and careless and reckless driving.

"We're going to keep doing everything in our power to try to get that number down to zero," said Capt. Bengie Gaddis with the Johnston County Sheriff's Office.

The sheriff's office started Operation Safe Teens last September. As part of the campaign, deputies and state troopers patrol areas around high schools, looking for teens speeding or driving recklessly.

The program has helped, and the message of safe driving is getting out, Gaddis said, but it's still a huge problem and some teen drivers are not listening.

"Right now, we're going to start more of an aggressive campaign," Gaddis said.

In the past, officers typically issued warnings and contacted parents when a student was caught speeding or driving carelessly. Now, Gaddis said, officers are fully enforcing traffic laws and issuing more citations to show how serious the issue is.

Last week, Gaddis said, an officer stopped a student going 93 mph in a 55 mph zone.

With Princeton's prom scheduled for next week, school officials have already started talking with students about driving safely that night. And, Gaddis said, extra deputies will be on the roads, as well.

"We want them to live," Gaddis said. "We want to save their lives, as well as other lives of other people out here on the highway."


This story is closed for comments.

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  • flipper59 Mar 11, 2008

    lauren i am sorry this happend.
    may god rest her sole and ease the pain all of her loved ones left behind.
    she is in a better place

  • Dr. Dataclerk Mar 11, 2008

    Giving kids a license to drive is a very big responsibility. Most are not mature enough to have drivers licence. Not much experience in driving and that my friends has a lot to do with the accidents that wind up many times taking a life. Most of all not following or obeying the rules of the highway. Over speeding is the first thing. I am sure you out there can think of many other rules that broken on the road.

  • Dr. Dataclerk Mar 11, 2008

    TarheelsDontLikeEdwards: The driving age needs to be raised to 21. Kids under 21 are too immature to operate a motor vehicle.

    I am glad someone agrees with me.

  • Panther Mar 11, 2008

    SEOpro you read my mind. A dash cam can do a lot of good, both by recording what the vehicle is doing and what your teenager is doing. I kind of relate driving a car to flying. Experience is learned from bad judgment. When someone first learns to fly they start out with a bag of luck and a empty bag of experience. The trick is to fill the bag of experience without running out of luck. We can offset the bag of experience with good instruction and practice. This also includes a proactive parent/s. I feel that parents are the key to this answer.

  • justamom Mar 11, 2008

    I work with teenagers on a daily basis. It is true that some do not always follow the "rules;" however, for the most part our teens at Princeton School are safe drivers. Katlyn Bell was an excellent driver. My son and daughter rode with her on many occasions and I have been behind and in front of her on 2 hour long trips. Again, she was an excellent driver. She may have made the same mistake so many of us make. We look left, look right and left again-but sometimes that 2nd look left is just a glance. I know a 47 year old who did the exact same thing a month ago. For all of you who have left disrespectful comments, please try and understand that we are all grieving. If you feel that teens need more education, then do something about it. Fund a program, start a program - just do something other than sitting at your keyboards and criticizing others that you do not know and communities and teachers that you have never met. We miss her and your comments hurt.

  • lauren cook Mar 11, 2008

    katlyn.....you were a wonderful friend. you will be missed dearly...i know that you were a cautious driver...mistakes happen. none of these fools on this site posting comments about "teen drivers this" and "teen drivers that" they dont realize that you were a human being.your parents daughter, riley's lover, my friend, princetons student.....

    my message to all of you out there reading this: have a heart the issue about teen drivers may be staring us in the face, but save all of your stupid comments to yourself! leave this comment section open for people who have fond memories of katlyn, better known as KBell... its really upsetting to read some of these hurtfull comments after a tragedy such as this. trust me i know...i had the same problem when my brother died last april............God bless Mamie Katlyn Bell

  • DontLikeTheSocialistObama Mar 11, 2008

    The driving age needs to be raised to 21. Kids under 21 are too immature to operate a motor vehicle.

  • SEOpro Mar 11, 2008

    Since I'm a techno-geek and also the mother of 1 driving teen and 2 upcoming teen drivers (soon to be 16 this month), I find a great comfort in teen driving tracking devices. You can get online real-time tracking anywhere from "every 5 minutes" down to "every minute" reporting. Insurance recognized these devices as anti-theft devices for your financial benefit. I realize that cost is a factor, so the solution does not fit every budget. I don't sell these things - it is just an option that gives parents some tools to use in the management of their vehicles and also lets them know that their teens are where they said they were going to be. MPH rates can be calculated based on the movement of the car, destinations and actual arrival times tracked. So - if the teen is speeding, then they might be in line for some "corrective time-out" from behind the wheel for a week or two. These days, I'll take all the help I can get! I don't like the cost either, but an ounce of prevention.....

  • drweeks Mar 11, 2008

    This is a tragic situation to all involved. Heartfelt sorrow will be over this family for a long time. We have lost a wonderful bright beacon to all that new her. Please look beyond the problems of youth and pray for the family that they will look for guidance and receive comfort from family, freinds and loved ones.


  • k9sandQtrs Mar 11, 2008

    I firmly believe in more education, preferably in a car on a closed course. I took a motorcycle safety course back in the early 90's, which taught me to be much more aware of my surroundings and to anticipate what other drivers were going to do. I firmly believe that class has saved my life over and over. Also, I think there's too much of a 'cool factor' in having a fast or powerful car and too many parents are giving in to their kids by handing them the keys to something way out of their experience level. On top of that, isn't the 'judgement' portion of your brain not really fully developed until your mid-20's anyway?