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Safety Presentation Drives Home Point About Dangers of Distracted Driving Among Teens

Fatal crash two weeks ago on East Donovan Road in Santa Maria serves as a grim example for teens and their parents

Kelly Browning from Impact Teen Driver talks to a group of teen drivers and their parents at the Santa Maria Public Library on Thursday night.
Kelly Browning from Impact Teen Driver talks to a group of teen drivers and their parents at the Santa Maria Public Library on Thursday night. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

In a story that sounds all too familiar, five good kids with a lifetime of great decisions saw one die after a reckless choice by a teen driver.

They were leaders among their peers, and decided against going to a party with alcohol and drugs. Instead, they played board games before going to a movie. While driving home on a country road the teen girl behind the wheel made a reckless action and lost control of the vehicle, which slammed into a tree. 

Three were ejected. Donovan Tessmer died. The driver was Tessmer’s girlfriend.

“This is all about choice,” Kelly Browning, executive director of Impact Teen Drivers, told a Santa Maria audience of teens and adults Thursday night during a traffic safety presentation.

But a bad decision one night changed all their lives, Browning said, asking the crowd of approximately 40 people who was responsible for Tessmer’s death.

“They all are,” she said, adding that if Tessmer’s mother had joined her for the presentation she would agree. 

“She  would say to you, ‘Every kid in the car that night had a responsibility in my son’s death, including my son. You see, my son knew better than to not wear a seat belt. He knew better.’”

The Santa Maria Police Department Traffic Bureau, in conjunction with Impact Teen Drivers and the California Highway Patrol, offered the traffic safety presentation at Shepard Hall in the Santa Maria Public Library, where about 40 teenagers and parents attended.

“Remember, we’re not talking about an obscure disease. We’re talking the No. 1 killer of teens in America — reckless and distracted driving,” Browning said.

The session came two weeks after the fatal crash on East Donovan Road, killing Righetti High School senior Breanna Rodriguez, 17, and injuring two of her passengers Jan. 30. Her mother was among those in the audience Thursday.

Police later said the 17-year-old driver was racing another car, also driven by a teen who faces charges in connection with the crash. 

teen driving
New Tech High School students Cooper Lock, Henry Switala and Jacob Wolf plus Jennifer Wolf review driver safety literature before Thursday's traffic safety presentation in Santa Maria. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

A Santa Maria presentation had been planned before the recent fatality, according to Browning.

“It just drove it home that we needed to be here even more strongly, and be here to answer questions about what we can do,” Browning said.

Both of the drivers have been described as top students and well-respected among their peers, just like those involved in the Madera County crash that killed Tessmer.

“What is lethal in teens is bad driving habits,” a narrator said in a video sharing about the dangers of distracted and reckless driving.

When the driver and three surviving passengers reunited to film a video about the crash that killed Tessmer, Browning said, one boy recalled being scared that night, prompting the driver to lash out verbally about why he didn’t say something.

Browning reminded the teens to think about the consequences of distracted and reckless driving “because they’re forever.”

“Every one of those kids wishes they would have spoke up that night,” Browning added.

Browning led a discussion about various distractions to driving such as putting on makeup, texting and even drinking coffee.

“Don’t be in a car that’s not safe. It’s just not worth it,” Browning said.

Texting while driving is as dangerous as drunken driving, the speakers said, asking if anyone in the audience would get into a vehicle driven by someone who is drunk.

But they also had a message for parents — be role models behind the wheel to set good examples for children. 

“As parents we kind of forget that we have students in the car watching us,” police Officer Ronnie Murillo said. “We’ve got to remember that.”

He recommended creating contracts with teens to spell out consequences for not following the rules.

Parents also must ensure kids follow rules under the California Graduated Driver License program aimed at making sure teens get adequate training — 50 hours — behind the wheel before driving alone.

“It’s not because you're bad drivers. It’s simply because you need practice,” she told the teens.

They also emphasized the importance of following California laws regarding teen drivers, restrictions designed to eliminate the number of accidents involving young drivers. Most crashes happen in the first 12 months, she said, explaining why young drivers are restricted from having underage passengers and not allowed to drive between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m.

“You don’t have to lose another young person in your community/ You don't have to. It’s a choice. Let’s not do it," Browning said, urging the teens in the audience to spread the message to thier peers against distracted and reckless driving.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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