Local News

Johnston County leads N.C. in auto-related teen deaths

Posted September 18, 2008
Updated September 21, 2008

— Speed might have been a factor in one crash that killed two young people in Johnston County on Wednesday evening, the state Highway Patrol said.

The area's growth, combined with winding rural roads, may be contributing factors in Johnston County's leading the state in auto-related teen deaths, officials say.

Brandon Lee Baker, 21, and Matthew Brandon Stewart, 17, died after a green Saturn they were riding in crossed the center line on Fellowship Church Road and hit a Jeep driven by an elderly woman around 8:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Stewart was the fourth Princeton High School senior to die in a car crash in the past 12 months. Baker was a graduate of Princeton.

"It's just hard, just to see that they're both gone," said Baker's brother, Tyler, who was a fellow senior at Princeton with Stewart.

In the past year, Tyler Baker has also lost three other classmates in car accidents.

“Speed is the leading cause of these crashes,” Capt. Everett Clendenin of the state Highway Patrol said.

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. A senior and a junior from Green Hope High School in Cary died Nov. 7 in a crash in Chatham County.

“We've just seen a higher percentage of teenagers killed in Johnston County,” Clendenin said.

Authorities say growth in the county, combined with winding rural roads to which teens are not paying enough attention, are factors in the high number of fatalities.

That's why Johnston County sheriff's deputies have stepped up patrols as part of Operation Safe Teens and are talking with the Johnston County school district about educational programs to try to reduce speeding and reckless driving.

“Everybody is saddened by this,” said Capt. Bengie Gaddis with the Johnston County Sheriff's Office. “We're not out there to rack up on charges and to write citations. We're out there to warn the kids to slow down and live."

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 unwise driving is still a huge problem.

“We love our youth here in this community and we're gonna do everything in our power to keep them here with us," 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 issuing more citations to show how serious the issue is.


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  • wine_girl Sep 19, 2008

    the families of these guys should be in our thoughts- period...
    doesn't matter where we put the blame-- they aren't called "on-purposes" they are called "accidents"

  • yeah Sep 19, 2008

    I have 2 teenage drivers who are frustrated by the cars that tailgate them as they drive the speed limit around the Triangle!

  • tgw Sep 19, 2008

    We can pick-wine-and moan as to who is right and wrong. Pointis-we have a problem. Tickets to remind kids and adults to slow down do not hurt. More police in the schools to talk with kids helps. More adults to talk with them helps. Most of all, PARENTS NEED TO PARENT!!!!! When parents continue to see unsafe on un-wise behaviors, they need to DO SOMETHING. TAKE A LISENCE AWAY!!!! Ground them, take the keys away.

    As a community, we care a great deal for all of these kids. WE all need to be PRAYING for them to mature in the behaviors.

  • Brogden Sep 19, 2008

    Redneck Bob is correct - the wrecks killing our teens in JC rarely involve anything other than inexperienced drivers + speed + rural roadways. These are also usually good kids, in to all the activities at school you would want your child in who just let one second of not paying attention take it all away. Sad

  • jdragonflie Sep 19, 2008


  • JustaCitizen Sep 19, 2008

    What criteria was used to determine the eleven teen-deaths. Was it any teen involved in an accident or maybe any teens involved in a wreck where a teen was at fault. Please clarify what parameters went into the reporting of facts.

  • twc Sep 19, 2008

    "The article didn't mention whether alcohol is a factor - usually it is with teen drivers and accidents. If so, then there is a larger problem with underage drinking and driving in Johnson Co.
    Just thinking"

    Alcohol was not involved and it is NOT usually involved with any of the accidents mentioned in Johnston County. Find another wish!!!

  • Love my boys Sep 19, 2008

    What good is issuing a citation gonna do? They're just gonna run home to mommy and daddy with the "The police are picking on me" song and dance. Then, mommy and daddy are going to pay a high priced lawyer to get their irresponsible kid out of the ticket.

    Yes, I have had 3 speeding tickets in my 10 years of driving. My mother went with me to court 2 of those 3 times and not to help me get out of it - to be supportive because I was scared to death. I paid the tickets with money I earned at the job I had after school. I didn't go anywhere for the next month after I paid those tickets for 2 reasons - I was only allowed to drive to and from school and work, and after paying those tickets, I didn't have the money to go anywhere. That's when gas was less than $2 a gallon too!

  • bs101fly Sep 19, 2008

    maybe the state will wake up and RAISE THE DRIVING AGE!
    I've been waiting for this to happen in NC and it's TIME it did!

  • JustaCitizen Sep 19, 2008

    Why does everyone focus on the negatives. First, my condolences to everyone affected. As for the roads, they haven't changed in this part of the county for at least 30 years. I drove them when I was 16, now 36. Let's focus on the person at fault, a teenage driver. Should not matter if a death occured or not. If the elderly lady would have been at fault, then the comments would probably be about the poor kids with such bright futures ahead and what do we need to do to keep older people from driving. Let's focus on all accidents where teenagers are at fault. Also, I dont remember 4 student deaths in the past 12 months I only remember 3, Gilbert, Katelyn, and Matthew. Is this right?