Wake County Schools

Wake schools struggle with loss of young lives

Posted September 29, 2014
Updated October 7, 2014

Spencer Saunders, left, and Laura Yost (Source: Spencer Saunders Twitter)

— It has been a difficult week for Wake County public schools, where students and staff are mourning the untimely deaths of a number of classmates.

"It is tragic under any circumstances when family and friends lose a child. It is hard to comprehend the losses of the past week," Superintendent Jim Merrill wrote in a statement Monday afternoon.

Braden Rock, 15, was the latest to lose his life. He died in a car crash on the way to Heritage High School in Wake Forest. His sister, Faith Rock, 17, was driving. She and two other passengers, Skyla Kirby and Katie Williams. both 16, were taken to WakeMed in Raleigh. The student driver in the car they hit, Oscar Rodriguez-Villa, 17, who goes to Wake Forest High School, also suffered minor injuries.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, motor vehicle crashes were the leading cause of death among those between the ages of 14 and 18. In many incidents, a teen driver's mistake also leads to the injury or death of teen passengers.

"It's really teen passengers that pose the biggest potential distraction for teen drivers," Arthur Goodwin, senior researcher at the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center, said Thursday – two days after Panther Creek High School sophomore Laura Yost died from injuries she suffered in a recent wreck.

In that case, another student, Spencer Saunders, 16, of Morrisville, was driving Yost and her brother to school when he tried to make a left in front of a dump truck. Yost died, her brother was injured, and Saunders faces a charge of misdemeanor death by vehicle.

Faith Rock, too, will have to deal with the emotional and physical fallout of her attempt to turn left in front of the car driven by Rodriguez-Villa.

And the grief and pain go beyond death. Students return to school with injuries and guilt. Classmates mourn, and parents worry.

"I think it is going to be tough for the parents to go through and all of their friends and everything," said Coby Bowen, a student at Heritage High, after learning of the crash that claimed Braden Rock's life.

Although he didn't know the teens in Monday's crash, Bowen said the entire student body was affected.

"Everybody was sad," he said.

"I heard a lot of crying outside of the classroom and it was quiet in mine," added classmate Jennifer Monuz.

Goodwin suggested that parents know their teens and limit driving, especially with peers in the car, until they are experienced enough to be safe.

"If you have multiple teens in a vehicle, teens are much more likely to be in a serious crash," he said. "It takes years of behind-the-wheel practice before you see the driving world in the same way an experienced driver does."

All the caution in the world can't keep tragedy at bay entirely, and that lesson is also being learned across Wake County this week. Monday's crash capped a week in which one teen died in a hit-and-run at the bus stop and another collapsed on the football field.


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  • andreanicole686 Sep 30, 2014

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    I agree. I do however think that pushing the full driving age to 17 would benefit a lot of people. Have the permit be at 16 and full license at 17. There are so many distractions for teenagers and adults. The more experience the better usually. Let's not forgot about all the adults out there who also have forgotten how to drive well too.

  • mickeymousemama Sep 30, 2014

    My children are students at Wake Forest High School and my 15 year old had been quite close in middle school to the deceased teen and still maintained contact with him through social media. She had to leave school early yesterday and had to stay home today. My 17 year old has been in several wrecks already and one was her fault and quite serious. I believe the only reason she and her passenger survived without serious injury were the front and side airbags and other recent technology. My husband had a very different experience as a teenager and had an accident which caused his passenger's eventual death. Experience is the only way to improve one's driving. Until then, I am so glad the we have today's remarkable safety technology. Let us not forget, raging against these teens are a mistake. They feel bad enough. When adults have car wrecks they are accidents and that is also true of teens.

  • Brenda Lawrence Sep 30, 2014
    user avatar

    I read somewhere that you could add years to your life by making all right turns. An interesting concept.

  • swfsm Sep 30, 2014

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    What would raising the age really accomplish? If raised to 18, then there will be inexperienced 18 year old drivers causing more accidents. If you raise to 21, then there will be 21 year old inexperienced drivers causing more accidents, etc. The main factor is experience level.

    My brother died in an accident caused by an 18 year old inexperienced driver. It was a single car accident on a desolate road, my brother was asleep so not a distraction and it was before cell phones.

    Death is part of life, always has been, always will be.

    My condolences go out to the families. They will be living with it long after it has faded from being the news item of the week and the Monday morning quarterbacks have moved on to a new topic.

  • elkerster Sep 30, 2014

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    Going to bible study has no bearing on where or not they are responsible kids and safe drivers. I lived in Youngsville and traveled that part of US1 often. They area is safe if you are careful but drying to beat out a break in traffic by cutting off a northbond driver while making a left turn is not safe, proper or responsible driving. I feel horrible for this kids and the girl out at Panther Creek. Two deaths in three weeks due to kids think they can beat the traffic.

  • luvstoQ Sep 30, 2014

    That turning lane at Caveness Subdivision is as safe as any - it's just a 'very' busy highway, and I've seen lots of people take chances they shouldn't have. You just have to be patient and wait for the traffic light at 1-A to halt the traffic.

    I turn that way a lot of times - it's a case of driver impatience. Also, it's a terrible 'cut - through' for Heritage High - just go down to the traffic light at Capitol & 1-A - with all the slow turns, time wise would be about the same.

    My heart breaks for the Rock family and friends - for his poor sister that will never get over her decision, also for the innocent student driver that hit them.

  • HankScorpio Sep 30, 2014

    Graduated licensing is a step in the right direction. We need to be creating much better drivers in this country. Too often after wrecks the focus is on making cars safer, intersections safer, and lowering speeds, which treat the symptoms but not the cause. Make the roads as safe as you want but there will continue to be wrecks if there aren't skilled drivers.

  • James McFetridge Sep 29, 2014
    user avatar

    Good kids or not, teenagers just simply lack experience in driving dangerous roads that most experienced adult drivers have difficulty facing themselves. Furthermore, having visitors with you is also a known and proven distraction. Likewise for cell phones and texting.

    While every family who has lost a child for any reason has my most sincere sympathy, I've seen too many accidents to allow any of my children to offer rides to any others while they still live in my house. Likewise, I do not permit them to ride as passengers in the vehicle of other teens unless a parent is present. When I was a youth, the same rules applied to me, and it never bothered me.

  • Susan Olvera Sep 29, 2014
    user avatar

    Be careful with your posts unless you've driven in this area ( Caveness and US 1 ). It's a very hazardous area, I'm a 37 year old woman with a clean driving record and I think it's dangerous. Don't be to quick to blame the children. The Heritage kids had just left a before school bible class, they were responsible kids.

  • Patrick Dolan Sep 29, 2014
    user avatar

    No matter what we say, or "monday morning quarterbacking" it, people died and obviously we can't take it back. Lawmakers please outlaw the cell phone period. Enact a law that does not allow for using vanity mirrors. Make the law so that you do have to be older it would help. Prayers for the famlies.