Totaled SUV teaches kids a lesson in safety

GLENDALE — About a dozen teenagers, parents and community members stood in awe of a Ford Explorer that looked more like a movie prop than a serviceable car Thursday at Maple Park.

The totaled SUV was a central feature in a safety workshop Thursday hosted by the California Highway Patrol officer and the city of Glendale.

Officer Andre Primeaux told the audience, more than half of whom were 15-year-olds, that they need to be aware of their surroundings.

“We want them to be safe,” he said. “If they’re skateboarding or riding bikes, everything. It’s not just having to do with driving. We have people out there who may be predators, and they need to be aware when they walk home.”

After a brief video and 9-1-1 audio tapes from a fatal car crash, students and their parents filed out and learned what befell the Explorer driver, passenger and the two teenagers who hit the car in January in Orange County.

“They were driving on surface streets,” said Armen Neemak, who works with, a network for finding auto parts. “The stupidest thing are the parents. Why did they get this car? Why?”

The passenger in the Explorer and the two teenagers in the Dodge Neon died. The modified Dodge, which was illegal for street driving, is still being used in an investigation, Neemak said. The Dodge driver, a teenager, was drunk and text-messaging at the time of the collision, he said.

“I try to bring this as much as I can, and do this,” said Neemak, who had the Explorer towed to the park. ”I can talk and talk, but the reality is much better.”

About 5,000 teenagers die in car collisions nationwide, and 10% of those crashes happen in California, law enforcement officials said. In 2007, the last year for which CHP has statistics, more than 82,000 crashes statewide involved teenage drivers, and more than 450 resulted in death.

The first traffic fatality of the year in Glendale occurred last weekend when two trucks collided at Victory Boulevard and Western Avenue and a 53-year-old Los Angeles man died. Alcohol was not believed to be a factor, police said.

The entire front half of the Explorer at Maple Park was twisted metal, ripped wire and fractured glass.

“I thought it was fake until I came closer,” said Stefan Abramian, a sophomore at Glendale High School.

Abramian, 15, said he was not ready to enroll in driver’s education courses, but has several friends who ride bicycles without wearing helmets, a behavior he said he would try to change.

“I have one friend who’s crashed five times,” he said.

Lisa Nolan said she wanted her teenage daughter to learn from law enforcement officials directly.

“Having it put on by a CHP officer and someone in uniform makes it better than if I talk to her — she’ll hear ‘blah, blah, blah,” Nolan said. “I want her to know she’s not superman.”

The presentation is part of an ongoing effort by law enforcement and community officials and to shape teenagers into better citizens, organizers said.

“We do a lot of workshops through the year to empower teenagers and to help them be better,” said Marco Tejadilla, a community services coordinator for the Glendale Parks, Recreation and Community Services Department. “Teenagers want to drive, but they don’t know the responsibility.”

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