REALITY CHECKPOINT Safety program targets teen drivers

Sometimes minor distractions can be the cause of major accidents.
BOARDMAN -- It's been nearly 10 years, but for Mara Amedia, the hurt is as strong and deep as it was on the pre-dawn summer morning the police officer appeared at her front door.
The young officer couldn't look directly at her when he delivered the message: Her son had been involved in a car accident. It's not possible, the Amedias protested. He's at a friend's house. We know where he is. He's not out anywhere.
At the hospital, her worst fears were realized. Her beloved Christian, nationally ranked tennis player and "A" student was dead. He was only 16.
"You can't possibly imagine what it's like, and I can't begin to tell you," Amedia told about 30 teens and their parents Monday night at Reality Checkpoint, a program designed to make students think before they act. It's a cooperative venture between the juvenile diversion programs in Boardman, Poland and Beaver townships, the Ohio State Highway Patrol and St. Elizabeth Health Center.
Frank talk
Amedia's emotional message punctuated an evening of frank talk, stark statistics and graphic images. Her son wasn't drinking and he wasn't driving really fast, Amedia said. He and a friend just snuck out on a summer night and took a drive to Taco Bell. They were three blocks from the friend's house when he ran off the road and hit a tree. For reasons she'll never understand, Christian, who always reminded people to buckle up, wasn't wearing his seat belt.
"He hit a tree this big around," said Amedia, holding her thumbs and index fingers in a 5-inch circle. "He went back so hard he broke the seat and then he went forward ... I can only hope he did die instantly."
Throughout the two hours that preceded Amedia's remarks, many of the teens fidgeted in their seats, perhaps anxious to enjoy the warm spring evening. That didn't escape Amedia's notice.
"We are not here to punish you," Amedia said. "We're here to save you. You have no idea how important you are. You have no idea how much you would be missed. Your actions don't exist just by themselves. Everyone who ever knew my son will remember him and the way he died. I've said, 'What if, what if, what if' so many times, but it doesn't matter. It happened."
Accident scenes
Lt. Brian Girts, commander of the Ohio State Highway Patrol's Canfield post, showed slides of twisted and crushed cars, then told the group the story behind the accidents. Some were alcohol-related crashes; in others, drivers didn't fasten their seat belts. Speed was a factor in many of the crashes; in others, a minor distraction, such as a cell phone or adjusting the radio, caused a major disaster.
"It's not always about recklessness," Girts said. "It's sometimes about negligence."
Traffic accidents happen to all kinds of people, Girts said. "I don't care where you live -- in a big, fancy house or in the worst conditions possible -- this can happen to you."
Anne Moss, a registered nurse and trauma unit manager at St. Elizabeth Health Center, shared accident statistics and 29 years' experience in the emergency room. She told the group about one of the hardest parts of her job -- telling parents that their child has been killed.
"They're crying, they're screaming, they're punching the walls," Moss said. "Life is way too short. Don't end it before you have to."
Parents and teens filed out quietly when the program ended, but Heidi Miller of the Boardman Police Juvenile Diversion Program said the silence probably didn't last long.
"I think they usually have a lot to talk about in the car," Miller said. "Sometimes people tell us that they leave here and buckle their seat belt for the first time ever."

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