Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | July 17, 2007

Lucky seven?

For folks who think seven is an innately lucky number, 7/7/07 was an auspicious date. Weddings were celebrated, births were anticipated, lottery tickets were purchased.

But for one Morgan Hill family, it was a somber anniversary, a reminder of a nearly unbearable loss, a day to ponder what might have been.

July 7, 2007, marked the 10th anniversary of the death of Andy Main. The 6-year-old died in a car accident on July 7, 1997.

The SUV that smashed into the Main family’s minivan was driven by a 16-year-old boy who was racing along East Dunne Avenue with another car driven by his 17-year-old friend.

Witnesses told police that the boys had been driving recklessly eastbound through the 40-mph zone, even crossing into westbound traffic to get ahead of each other and other cars. Police estimated that they were driving 60 to 70 mph.

I first got to know Betsy Main, Andy’s mom, in 2000 when I wrote about her family doubling in size upon the birth of triplets. They’ll turn 7 later this week.

I immediately felt a connection with Betsy: We each had our first baby the same year, a boy we each named Andrew, we each followed the birth of our son with a daughter. But I was acutely aware of one difference: I had not had to learn how – as Betsy had – to deal with the loss of a child.

I admired Betsy’s strength and grace. When she contacted me about marking the 10th anniversary of Andy’s death by addressing the importance of safe teen driving, my admiration grew.

“Andy would have turned 16 on March 7,” Betsy told me. “His friends are turning 16 and starting to drive. Is there any way I can make a difference?”

Betsy mentioned the all-too-frequent local examples of tragedies involving young drivers.

We talked about Erin Kinkel, 15, who was ejected from the bed of a pickup truck driven by an 18-year-old. Erin died while being airlifted to the hospital.

We remembered Nicholas Schindler, 20, who was not wearing a seat belt while allegedly racing with another 20-year-old. When his car flipped on a curb, Nicholas was ejected. He died after his family removed him from life support two weeks later.

“It’s heavy on my heart,” Betsy said.

She hopes to spare other families the devastation that can come from teens’ careless driving decisions. It devastates, of course, families like Betsy’s that lose loved ones, but also young drivers who cause serious accidents, and their families.

Betsy emphasized the importance of wearing seat belts.

“It seems like nine times out of 10, there’s that sentence in the news story, ‘was not wearing a seat belt,’” she said of teen driving accidents.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “Of the 31,910 vehicle occupants killed in crashes in 2001, 60 percent were not wearing a safety belt.” Car accidents are the leading cause of death for US teens and young adults.

Betsy hopes teens will remember the fatal consequences that can result from choices like not buckling up or riding in the bed of a pickup truck.

But there’s also the problem of teens driving recklessly, which caused Andy’s death.

Allstate Insurance reports that speeding, driving in the wrong lane and reckless driving are three of the top five driver-related factors in fatal accidents involving teen drivers. All three were factors in the crash that took Andy’s life.

Teens represent about 6 percent of all drivers in the US, but are involved in 14 percent of fatal accidents and 18 percent of police-reported accidents. That’s why many states, including California, grant graduated driving privileges to teenagers, limiting the hours they can drive and the age of passengers they can transport.

Betsy sometimes hears parents complain that these restrictions prevent teenagers from driving siblings or friends to outings or school. She has a word of advice, gleaned from heartbreaking experience, for those parents: “Think about the lives lost and drivers whose lives have changed.”

Think about the accident that happened on July 7 ten years ago.

Here’s a way to make that difference that Betsy spoke of.

“For the kids who did know Andy, remember him when you get into a car,” Betsy said.

And if you didn’t know Andy, when you slide behind the wheel, think about the number seven and Andy, who never celebrated his seventh birthday. Then make the number seven lucky for you by buckling up and driving safely.

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