Thursday, April 22, 2004

Kristen's death a lesson

Teen drivers warned of dangers

By Janice Morse
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Linda Barrett wipes away a tear as she talks to students at Lemon-Monroe High School Wednesday about the death of her daughter Kristen Norris (in photo, right). Kristen was killed in February along with driver Joey Adams when his car slammed into a utility pole in Middletown at an estimated speed of more than 95 mph.
The Cincinnati Enquirer/GLENN HARTONG
MONROE - The happy chatter of nearly 300 teens fell silent after they saw the 25-by-34-inch portrait of Kristen Norris propped on an easel.

Many of the Lemon-Monroe High School students knew that Kristen, 17, lived in nearby Middletown. They also knew she died in a high-speed crash along with a 2002 graduate of their school, Joey Adams.

On Wednesday, the students also learned something about her family's anguish.

In an emotional presentation that left many students in tears, Linda Barrett, Kristen's mother, shared some of the pain of her daughter's death. They also heard Barrett warn them that they would subject their families to the same unending pain if they drive carelessly and end up in a fatal crash.

Barrett described answering her door around 2:30 a.m. Feb. 15 and hearing the news about Kristen from a police officer, a chaplain and a detective. "This is what it will be like for your mom or dad," she said. "If you could see them, you would see their bodies begin to shake with unbelief. If you could hear them, you would hear their screams ... But you will not see or hear them; you will not know what they feel because you are dead."

Barrett's talk was part of the school's annual pre-prom safe-driving assembly, the type of program many Greater Cincinnati schools hold before prom and graduation.

But this year, there is renewed urgency because of a recent spate of teen-involved fatal crashes, said Lt. Michael Black of the Ohio State Highway Patrol's Hamilton Post.

Since Kristen's crash on Feb. 14, at least 10 crashes involving teens have killed 11 people from Greater Cincinnati. Police blame excessive speed in six of those wrecks.

Black, who coordinated Wednesday's program at Lemon-Monroe and at a half-dozen other area schools, reminded the students that Butler County police have adopted a zero-tolerance policy: They will ticket any teen driver who commits a moving violation. And courts are suspending licenses even for first-time offenders if they are caught exceeding the speed limit by 15 mph or more.

"We need your help," Black said. "I'm begging you to make good decisions ... One bad decision, and you can't get it back."

Barrett told the teens that the thrill of riding fast is temporary, and "there's not one that's worth going into the ground for." She urged the teens to make good decisions as passengers, too.

"Don't end the awesome future that lies before you," Barrett said.

David Beckham, 17, a junior, said Barrett's message hit him hard. "She made me cry," he said.

Beckham said he already understands the importance of driving safely. He says he has made enemies by taking car keys away from teens who had been drinking. "But I don't care, because at least they're alive," Beckham said.

Beckham doubted that Barrett's message will get through to everyone. "But the ones who get it, it will stay with them," he said.


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