From Ohio to Illinois to Texas, the United States has again faced the tragic fact that teenagers, parties and driving don’t mix, as accidents have left a trail of shattered homes and communities across the nation.
In recent days, six teenagers died in Warren, Ohio; four more in Wilmington, Ill., some 50 miles from Chicago; and in rural Dumas, Texas, five teenagers were killed -- the latest examples of why motor vehicle crashes continue to be the No. 1 killer of youths in the United States, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Vehicle accidents took the lives of about a quarter of the 15- to 24-year-olds who died in 2010. They are more deadly than gun violence -- a fiercely contested subject in state and federal legislatures in the wake of a year of massacres including one at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., and another at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo.
According to the CDC, car deaths outpaced homicides, suicides and accidental poisonings, all highly visible deaths in the turbulent world of the young that often includes gang violence, confused emotional feelings and peer pressure to ingest substances.
The federal statistics show that in 2010, an average of seven people aged 16 to 19 died every day from motor vehicle injuries. Per mile driven, drivers ages 16 to 19 are three times more likely than drivers aged 20 and older to be in a fatal crash.
In Ohio, a casual get-together was considered the start of the events that led to the deaths of the driver and five passengers in a stolen SUV that flipped over a guard rail in the early hours Sunday on a stretch of road locally known as “Dead Man’s Curve.” Two teens survived the accident.
One of the survivors, Brian Henry, 18, told reporters he tried to persuade the 19-year-old woman who was driving to slow down before the Honda Passport slammed into the rail. “The car had jerked out of control,” Henry told TV station WYTV in Youngstown. “I don’t know if she did it on purpose, or how fast she was going [if] that’s why it jerked like that.”
Henry said he was thrown into the back of the vehicle and blacked out until the chilly water made him alert. He said he used his elbow to break a window and wriggled out of the submerged vehicle along with 15-year-old Asher Lewis. The pair, who suffered only minor injuries, ran to a home to call 911.
Henry said the teens had been headed home. He said he caught a ride with the group after the other boys were already in the vehicle, so he’s not sure what they had been doing earlier. The car was reported stolen on Monday, more than a day after the crash. It wasn’t clear if the passengers knew the car was stolen.
A State Highway Patrol report released on Tuesday also said the driver of the vehicle did not have a valid drivers’ license.
Police have told the media not to jump to conclusions as they continue their investigation into the accident that has riven Warren, a northeastern Ohio industrial city of about 41,000 people.
But the dangers of traffic and teenagers are hardly confined to small industrial cities. Outside Dumas, Texas, at the junction of two rural roads, five teenagers in a Chevrolet SUV died when that vehicle slammed into a gasoline tanker on Sunday afternoon, hours after the Ohio crash.
Officials told reporters that the SUV, driven by a 16-year-old, went through a stop sign and entered the intersection when the tanker truck smashed into the vehicle’s side, KFDA reported.
The driver and four passengers died at the scene. It was not clear where the group was heading, their parents told local reporters, but the five often hung out together; two were sisters.
“It was always them together, all five of them always together,” Star Tovar, assistant manager at the local Dairy Queen, told Amarillo’s KVII.
In the Illinois accident, Will County officials on Tuesday reported finding four dead teenagers from Wilmington High School in a creek bed.
The sedan, containing the bodies of two boys and two girls ages 15 to 17 was found in Forked Creek on Ballou Road west of Warner Bridge Road around 7:30 a.m., Will County Sheriff’s spokesman Ken Kaupas told the Chicago Tribune.
The teens had left their homes Monday evening, Kaupas said.
As the swollen creek receded Tuesday morning, someone spotted the car in the water. A guard rail on the south side of Ballou Road appeared to have been knocked down as the car left the road, Kaupas said.