Local News

Wrecks kill four high schoolers in a week

Posted May 1, 2010 8:58 a.m. EDT
Updated May 2, 2010 8:10 a.m. EDT

— The deaths of four high school students in wrecks in central and eastern North Carolina over the past week are reinforcing the message of a month dedicated to teaching young people how to drive safely.

Gov. Bev Perdue signed a proclamation on April 23 declaring May to be "North Carolina Youth Traffic Safety Month."

This Saturday, Michael Turner Jr., 17, of Elm City, died following a wreck on West Mount and Old Carriage roads, near Rocky Mount.

On Wednesday, South Johnston High School sophomore Jessee Ferrell, 16, died in a wreck with his best friend's vehicle as they were headed to school.

Four days earlier, Hoke County High School seniors Kaleb Valliant, 18, of Aberdeen, and Thadius Markle, 18, of Raeford, died in a two-vehicle wreck in Fayetteville.

Wrecks are the leading cause of death for teenagers in North Carolina, according to the state Highway Patrol. In the past four years, 682 teenagers have been killed in wrecks investigated by state troopers.

"Our goal is to educate teenage drivers on the dangers of driving irresponsibly," commander Col. Randy Glover said in a statement. "The Highway Patrol is committed to saving teenage lives on our highways, and we will continue to look at various avenues to address this issue."

Half of the fatal wrecks occur on rural roads, and speed is the leading cause of the wrecks, according to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration.

Johnston County, in particular, has struggled with a highest rate of teen driving deaths. Nearly 40 teenagers have died there in the past five years – three so far this year, nine in 2009 and seven in 2008.

For the next two weeks, state troopers will be conducting extra patrols outside Johnston County schools. They will also teach high schoolers about traffic safety as part of the “Live to Drive, Drive to Live.”

Johnston County runs a defensive-driving program "Alive at 25" year-round. On Monday, county commissioners will hear from a task force looking at ways to encourage safe driving by teens.

Perdue's proclamation encourages parents to create a driving contract with their teenager, establishing expected behavior and consequences for bad driving.

"Studies have shown that parental influence is a key factor in teaching teens responsibility and safety," Perdue's proclamation says. "Even when parents are no longer in the car, there is still something they can do to help protect their teen driver."

New teenage drivers are given a sample teen-parent driving contract from the state Department of Motor Vehicles.