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Johnston County aims to put brakes on teen driving deaths

Smithfield Mayor Norman Johnson debuted the "Alive at 25" program to offer free defensive driving courses to Johnston County teens.

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SMITHFIELD, N.C. — Car crashes claimed the lives of 11 Johnston County teenagers in 2007 and several more this year. On Monday, leaders in Smithfield announced plans to put the brakes on further fatal crashes.

Smithfield Mayor Norman Johnson debuted the "Alive at 25" program to offer free defensive driving courses to county teens. Car crashes are the leading cause of death for 15- to 24-year-olds and Johnston County is leading the state in those numbers.

"Due to the high number of teenage fatalities on the roadways we have to do something," Norman said in announcing the program.

"Alive at 25" is a four-hour class open to Johnston County residents ages 16 to 19 years old. The first class will be held from 5 to 9 p.m. on Nov. 6. Teens or their parents should call the Town of Smithfield at 919-934-2116 to sign up for the class.

There will be a $5.50 charge for class materials which will be waived for low-income families. If the classes prove popular, more will be scheduled, Norman said.

The State Highway Patrol announced its own program Monday, "Drive to Live," which will include an enforcement crackdown around schools.

In 2007, Johnston County led the state with 11 fatalities. Neighboring Harnett County had two fatalities, while Wake and Wayne counties each had one, and two Wake teens died in a Chatham County crash.

Speed is a factor in the majority of the car crashes killing teens in Johnston County, according to the Highway Patrol.

Johnston County law enforcement officials say the number of auto-related teen deaths is alarming.

“We love the youth in our community, and (we) are going to do everything in our power to keep them here with us,” said Capt. Bengie Gaddis with the Johnston County Sheriff’s Office after the most recent crash on Sept. 17.

Then, Brandon Lee Baker, 21, and Matthew Brandon Stewart, 17, died after their green Saturn crossed the center line on Fellowship Church Road and hit a Jeep driven by Rosa Wilson, 80.

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

A helicopter and two ambulances took Wilson and the Saturn’s driver and other passenger – also Princeton students – to a hospital. Nathan Pearson, 17, was the driver and Codie McConnell, 17, was the other passenger.

Pearson was still in the hospital Monday. He was listed in good condition. McConnell had been released from WakeMed.

Wilson was in serious condition after undergoing surgery at Duke University Medical Center.


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