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Saturday, September 29, 2007

Driving As If There's No Tomorrow

Updated 15:45: The Argus Leader reports the death of two teenagers in a senseless, stupid act of irresponsible driving and teenage bravado. The article says 17-year-old Washington HS student Artyom* Koval killed himself and his passenger, 15-year old Ashleigh Mauseth, by crashing his Toyota into a pickup truck at 34th and Sycamore in Sioux Falls last night. Koval's reckless driving sent the owner of the pickup, 27-year-old Dustin Allen Wasmund, and his three-year old daughter to the hospital. The Argus cites Koval's friend Alan Whitcomb as estimating that Koval was racing down Sycamore as fast as 100 miles per hour.

"We like to go fast," Whitcomb said. "His was the fastest one of our vehicles. He loved showing off. We all did. ... No more going fast."

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Stop right here, kids. I want to help, but to do so, I'm going to say some harsh things. (People who care tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear.) If you knew Koval or (as I did) Ashleigh, if you are grieving and upset, you might want to stop here. Close this page, come back in a week, or a month, or a year, whenever you're ready. If you're ready, then read on...
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Kids, listen up. I know you get tired of hearing me play the scold, but your lives are at stake. The media may pump your heads full of images of speed and daring (not to mention thrill-a-minute parties revolving around booze and sex). You're told that following the rules and being careful is for losers, that if you're not "living on the edge," you're not living.

Two kids were living on the edge last night. Now they're not living.

I'm particularly worked up about these deaths because something very similar happened in Montrose last year. After the death in Montrose, kids went around calling the 15-year-old driver a hero, talking about how great it was that he lived on the edge, and praising him as a great friend. Will the same talk be going around Washington High School about the young man who died last night? Let's hope not. Here's why:

  • ***A hero doesn't senselessly risk the lives of other people for his own thrills. Koval killed a girl and almost killed a dad and his three-year-old little girl. He could have killed who knows how many other motorists who were out minding their own business on Sycamore at 9 p.m. Had he lived, Koval likely would have been charged with manslaughter or vehicular homicide. There is no heroism in driving like a madman.

  • ***A great friend doesn't think only about himself. Koval didn't think about anyone but himself. The people who survived the accident will have hospital bills and terrible traumatic memories. The people who saw the accident will be similarly traumatized. The families of Koval and the girl he killed will grieve. Washington High School will be a mess next week, with kids and teachers struggling to cope with a loss they shouldn't have to face. One selfish, thoughtless act causes all this pain -- no thoughtful friend would do that.

Kids, as you struggle to make sense of what happened, you may feel an urge to turn this accident into some glorious myth. It happened in Montrose, and it may happen now. You want to believe that these deaths meant something, that some good can come out of the accident. You'll want to avoid speaking ill of the dead, so you'll try to turn your blame elsewhere (maybe even against me for saying such harsh things).

But if any good can come of this crash, it lies in seeing it for what it really is: a senseless loss of two young people filled with potential, the near loss of other precious lives, and a terrible amount of grief and pain, caused by one act of thoughtless selfishness.

Recognize that ugly truth. Recognize that a moment's carelessness can impact so many lives beyond your own. That may be hard to swallow now, and I understand if you reject that message now. But that message, if we share it, if we really learn from it, is exactly the message that can keep other kids from dying.

Will saying these things stop every senseless death? Of course not. Teenagers will always want to push the limits. But after the death in Montrose last year, some kids (and some of us old folks) thought about what happened every time they got into a car, and they wore their seat belts more often.

Stories like this are terrible. The people involved in last night's incident at 34th and Sycamore likely will wish they could forget the details completely. But if we tell these stories, if we tell the central message that tomorrow is too precious -- that life is too precious -- to throw away for one night of showing off in a cool car, we might save lives. And if out of the millions of you kids out there, just one of you thinks about the story and slows down or stays home and saves just one life, then the sad telling is worth it.

But if my long arguments don't stick with you, at least remember what Koval's friend Whitcomb said:

No more going fast.

Life's too short to go fast. Be careful. Please.

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p.s.: I wrote about the Montrose incident on these pages last November, and wanted to say more, hoping that parents and kids alike would look at what really happened, look at the senseless loss of life, and just be careful. However, a complaint was filed with the school district (over a blog article that I wrote on my own time, on my own computer), and while the complaint process went on, I voluntarily removed the article and withheld further public comment.

What happened there is another story. The point here is that not telling stories leaves people ignorant. Ignoring what really happened means more kids might die.

If I had told Ashleigh the Montrose story, would she have gotten in that car with Koval?

Those of you interested in reading the story I posted last November, contact me (see comment page for private e-mail address), and I'll send you a copy so you can share the message with others and try saving some lives.

*Argus earlier reported the name of the driver as Troma.

24 comments:

  1. Good try, Cory. Unfortunately, it most likely will not make a difference. The teens who act like this see themselves as invincible, even after it happens to someone else (because that's who it will happen to, someone else). How many kids have gone through the DARE program in 5th grade, and still are out doing drugs and alcohol a few short years later? Do we stop trying? No, because the few kids who do listen and learn are worth it. But I really wish we could reach more of them.

    This comes from a mom whose teenage daughter would never consider drinking, drugs, smoking, reckless driving. I have two more coming up and I know there are no guarantees, but I do believe that what they are learning at home makes it far less likely they will.
    And that, I believe is one of the biggest keys - what the kids learn at home, what is "preached" and especially modeled by the parents.
    DJ

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  2. I hate to say this, but this kid was a moron. It's harsh, but it's true.

    I've seen too many good people and friends die because someone acted like an idiot and was speeding or doing something equally dumb.

    I remember my dad telling me when I started that I was essentially driving a loaded gun. And he's right. It's a 2000-pound projectile propelled by a highly-explosive liquid propellant. And the only thing keeping it from causing death or destruction is the person behind the steering wheel.

    And I remember all those "awareness days" at school where they said don't drink, don't do drugs, don't drive like an idiot. I always wondered how effective they were. Apparently in this case, not very.

    I get FURIOUS when I see these kids doing this stuff. Because they're so arrogant in the belief they're indestructible, they can go out and put themselves and others at risk. And when they get killed, they're made out to be HEROES?!?! Give me a break.

    This kid was probably a good kid, not taking that away from him. But he should have never had a driver's license. And now two families are irrevocably changed.

    Sorry for the rant, but it's like I said... I've seen TOO MUCH of this stuff already.

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  3. If you don't work for that district anymore, or even as a teacher, perhaps you'd consider reposting that earlier story?

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  4. DJ -- try is all we can do. The scariest thing for me (and quite likely for you) is that even if we successfully raise our own kids to do the right thing, they could get killed by one other reckless kid who never learned better. Here's an area where we do have to do everything we can to protect our kids. (And check it out, loyal readers: I'm not asking government to do it. DJ nails it: the key is doing it right at home.)

    jackrabit1 -- kids need to hear more such rants, and more advice like your dad's. Car = loaded gun -- darn good way to look at it.

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  5. A high school friend of mine died the day I turned 16. That was 20 + years ago. To this day, I can see her lying in her hospital bed, her head shaved from surgery and her entire face swollen. The car she was riding in was struck by other kids "just doing what kids do." This kind of senseless loss should never be experienced - but that is just a dream.

    What ever happened to those drivers ed films that we had to watch.... you know, the ones with the pictures of the crash scenes. I bet if more kids saw those grisly things, the might just think for a second about the consequences.

    BH

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  6. First of all I'd like to say that when I read these kinds of comments, I get somewhat offended. As a young woman mysel, I can truly say that the stereotype of the dumb, reckless teen on the road is generalized and unfair. Although there are always exceptions, for the most part we 'kids' take our time on the road as seriously as most 'adults' I've seen drive.

    That being said, I'd like to address the fact that Optimistic Bias is a real physchological complex that teens have, making them prone to thinking that bad things won't happen to them. Please remember, you also had this complex at their age! No amount of 'preaching' (anonymous-mom) will ever take the effects of this complex away. Rather, any preaching you do might aggravate these ideas. Rebellion is far easier than listening to reason. When I think of the most effective things my own mother has said to me, I realize that they've NEVER been her preaching-speeches. Rather, they were the simple statements like, "I love you, please be careful tonight" that made me stop, think, and check to make sure I was wearing my seatbelt.

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  7. No stereotypes here, Anon. Just two specific incidents where bad decisions led to death.

    Preach, reason, hug -- this dad (along with mom) plans to use every method available to keep his daughter alive, as well as every other person on the road. Those methods will include blunt descriptions of what happens when people (young and old) make immature decisions and are unmindful of others.

    I care a little about whether you take offense; I care much more about whether you stay alive. I do love you. Be careful.

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  8. At peril of further offense...

    "National Teen Driving Statistics (from Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association):

    * Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teenagers.
    * 16 year-olds have higher crash rates than drivers of any other age.
    * 16-year-olds are three times more likely to die in a motor vehicle crash than the average of all drivers.
    * 3,467 drivers age 15-20 died in car crashes in 2005.
    * Drivers age 15-20 accounted for 12.6 percent of all the drivers involved in fatal crashes and 16 percent of all the drivers involved in police-reported crashes in 2005.
    * Graduated drivers license programs appear to be making a difference. Fatal crashes involving 15- to 20-year olds in 2005 were down 6.5 percent from 7,979 in 1995, to the lowest level in ten years.
    * The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates the economic impact of auto accidents involving 15-20 year old drivers is over $40 billion.
    * According to a 2005 survey of 1,000 people ages 15 and 17, conducted by the Allstate Foundation
    -- More than half (56 percent) of young drivers use cell phones while driving,
    -- 69 percent said that they speed to keep up with traffic
    -- 64 percent said they speed to go through a yellow light.
    -- 47 percent said that passengers sometimes distract them.
    -- Nearly half said they believed that most crashes involving teens result from drunk driving.
    * 23 percent of teen drivers killed in 2005 were intoxicated, according to NHTSA.
    * Statistics show that 16 and 17-year-old driver death rates increase with each additional passenger (IIHS).

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  9. Well, anon, you can be offended all you want, but if it keeps you from acting stupid behind the wheel... well, I guess it's better to be offended than crippled or dead.

    You know, being "nice" and "touchy-feely" doesn't always get the job done. Sometimes you need a hard dose of reality. And this kid was a moron, because he not only risked his life, but that of his passenger, as well as every other driver out on that road at that time. It was dumb, foolish, stupid, and ultimately fatal.

    I'm not going to call this a tragedy. A tragedy is a 4-year old with cancer. This was pure stupidity to the n-th degree.

    And I don't think I ever generalized teens as being wreckless and foolish. BUT, I am calling out those who think it's cool to "Bark" their tires, go dragging down a highway, or do something equally dumb.

    For those of you who think that doing that stuff is cool, I got news for you. There are thousands of kids who thought the same way as you. Now they're in morgues, funeral homes, or just in a graveyard. And there's even more with broken and missing arms and legs, some horribly disfigured, and others who will never be able to run or even hug their parents because they are paralyzed.

    They all had the same thought... "It'll never happen to me." Guess what. It can.

    And if our harsh words keeps one kid from doing something stupid and saving his or her life (as well as other), then I guess it's worth a few hurt feelings.

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  10. I guess we old guys are rather cranky about this.

    AAA offers some stats:

    "...between 1995 and 2004 crashes involving 15- to 17-year-old drivers claimed the lives of 30,917 people, of which 11,177 (36.2%) were those drivers themselves. However, the majority of fatalities in these crashes were people other than those drivers, and included 9,847 of their passengers, 7,477 occupants of vehicles operated by drivers 18 years of age or older, and 2,323 nonmotorists."

    3000 deaths a year for ten years. Al-Qaida imposed a death toll like that on us just once. That's fodder for a broader policy debate.

    The immediate message, though: Be careful. Don't show off. Don't forget how much you mean to your mom and dad, your friends, your teachers. Don't forget how much the people riding with you and in those other cars mean to their families and friends. Choose life -- drive slowly.

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  11. Sorry, Jimmy, you can't use language like that in civil discourse. Comment deleted. Adult language here means polite language, not obscene name-calling. Plus, it's an attitude like yours that gets kids killed.

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  12. Sorry, "dak" (1/10/2008 1:39 PM) -- cuss words not allowed, and probably against the rules at school (Sioux Falls Public Schools, K-12 server, IP 206.176.81.101). Comment deleted.

    But in response to "ur make it sound like artyom was a bad kid..."

    I take no position here on whether anyone is a "bad kid," but the behavior exhibited that night was thoughtless, selfish, and deadly. Two kids died; a dad and a daughter could have died with them. We can't forget that... and unpleasant as the story is, we have to tell it, in hopes that it won't happen again.

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  13. u guys dont know nothing so shut up!!!

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  14. Blowing people off solves nothing, roza. If we know nothing, please help us by telling us something we can learn from. That's what some of my commenters and I are trying to do.

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  15. Ok first I want to say u did offend people ok!! and you need to no that everyone has mistakes dont say u never had any mistakes!! You cant say he drove himself and the girl to a pickup truck and killed himself the girl asked him for a ride he didnt force her i dont blame her though i dont blame anyone if your not family you don't actually no anything about it except what the tv says. So dont say stuff like he drove himself to death! And this will not make a difference! their are tons of people still dying from car accidents its part of life i guess. so keep your bad comments to yourself!!

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  16. Angel, you and I will never know if this discussion does any good, because the one person -- or the two, the ten, who knows how many -- it saves will never make the news. He, she, or they will simply go on living, quietly, peacefully.

    Keep it to myself? Sorry, I can't do that. My little girl is two. When she gets up toward Ashleigh's age, I'll tell her this story, and many other stories, to help teach her that every choice has consequences, sometimes much bigger consequences than we initially realize.

    The truth can offend. It can make us sad and angry. But it's the truth, and we have to learn from it.

    Just a question, Angel: would you prefer we forget completely about this event? never mention it? I imagine the little girl who survived the crash wishes she could forget it, but she can't. She has to live with the truth, as do all of us. Isn't it better to make some meaning out of a bad event by telling the story like it is and hoping someone (even one person) will learn from it?

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  17. Well you need to stop making it seem like artyom was a bad kid he wasnt he was a senor and was going to graduate 2 months after this happened. Your calling him stupid and a moron he's not. She wanted the ride but he also made a bad decision by driving fast but the truck wasnt driving 35 either. Their are many people right now driving way over the speed limit he was just unlucky! so stop giving me a speech its hard loosing anyone but you have to no there are 2 familys crushed not 1 so saying all these mean things about artyom just makes his family feel even worse! what if that was your son behind that wheel? how would you feel if everyone is saying all these horrible things about him? you wouldnt no because that probably didnt happen to you!!

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  18. Hi, Angel --

    Thanks for coming back... I know it's tough for you to do, and not fun at all.

    You're right: lots of other people are speeding. Every one of them is taking an unnecessary risk. Every one of them should be held responsible.

    You're also right that I'd feel horrible if people were saying these things about my daughter. That's why I will tell her this story, and others, in the hope that she never will never cause such harm by being selfish and not thinking about tomorrow. And if she ever does make such a mistake (I really, really don't want to think about that, but you asked), I will hurt a lot... but I'll still try to tell the truth.

    You're right -- that's not at all pleasant to think about.

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  19. Thanks for listing to my comment and i hope people do tell their kids this story to tell them so they can be safe, but i also dont want people saying it was all artyom's fault he made a bad decision but so did the girl and i know if he had the chance to go back he would defintley change everything.
    This is all i have to say.
    We will miss you Artyom and Ashleigh very mush but we know you're in a better place, see you up there one day!

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  20. Thank you, angel. Talking about what really happened is always better than bottling it up or trying to make the event out to be something it wasn't. Talking about bad things is how we learn from them and keep others from getting into the same situations.

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  21. Heather Whitcomb7/29/2009 12:17 PM

    u guys have no idea wat went on yea there may have been speeding but that doesnt mean he killed himself and her. it a mistake and accident. but god wanted them for a good reason for them to be gone today. those two were the best friends to ever go to and u guys just lucked out on metting two wonderful people. u have to admit there is times where we wanna go a lil fast but we catch ourselves. well they lost control and were unfortunate. so unless u were there to know them and to know what happened keep quiet. the ones who care miss and love you artyom and ashleigh and we will see u soon.

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  22. Heather: Use this story as a reminder to fight the urge to "go a lil fast."

    You say "see u soon" to the deceased, which scares me. We do the deceased no dishonor by saying we hope it takes decades, as long as humanly possible, before you or anyone else sees them again in whatever afterlife may await. Do not brush life off the way reckless drivers do. Live, live, live for as long as you can.

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  23. Artyom was a very nice guy.
    Please don't say he was selfish, because in reality, he was not.
    He was a HUGE believer in God.
    He was just like any other teenager.
    So what. He speeds? Everyone speeds. I bet you even speed Cory. I doubt he was going over 100 mph.
    Go Warriors.
    From,
    DJ.

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  24. Sure, lots of people speed. And if they kill someone doing it, they must be held up as examples of how one moment of uncharacteristically selfish, thoughtless behavior can destroy your own life and the lives of others.

    "doubt he was going over 100 mph"—that's a rather thin defense of reckless behavior on a city street that killed another person and almost killed two others.

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