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Families tell tragic stories of teens lost to distracted, reckless driving

By Jenna Levetan

Deseret News

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 19 2010 5:39 p.m. MDT

Jeremy and Wendy Allan wipe away tears as they listen to other parents tell about losing their son in a car crash. The Allans also related their experience of losing their 16-year-old daughter, Porscha Dzierzon, in a car wreck. Parents of teens who were killed in car crashes talked at Woods Cross High School about their tragic experiences as part of the Utah Department of Health's Violence and Injury Prevention Program.

Stuart Johnson, Deseret News

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WOODS CROSS — Porscha Dzierzon was a passenger in a car that was driving down Bountiful Canyon too fast. Her boyfriend, who was driving, lost control and the vehicle rolled, landing on the side where Porscha was sitting.

Jeremy Allan well remembers receiving the phone call that night from his daughter's boyfriend.

"I couldn't make out what he was saying at first, but … I realized that something was really wrong," Allan recalled Tuesday. "He said, "Jeremy, I'm really sorry, but I rolled my Jeep and Porscha is hurt really bad.' "

Allan said that phone call on Sept. 11, 2009, will likely be "the worst call I will ever receive, knowing our daughter was lying there seriously injured and there's nothing you can do. We had seen her at our home just an hour before this happened."

Porscha died at the scene.

Jake Hawkes was 19 when he died in a rollover accident in Hyde Park, Cache County, on Aug. 26, 2009. Investigators later learned that he was sending or receiving a text just before the crash.

"Perhaps my son is no longer alive because he was paying attention more closely to his phone than the road in front of him," said Jake's father, Chad Hawkes.

"I am not anti-cell phone use, but I am pro-life," he said. "We've all driven distracted once in a while."

Motor vehicle crashes kill more teenagers in Utah than any other cause of death. Last year, 35 families found out their teenager had died in a car crash. Tuesday, the Hawkes and Allan families shared their stories to raise awareness about distracted and reckless driving. The event was sponsored by the Utah Department of Health and Utah Teen Driving Task Force at Woods Cross High School.

Allan said sharing his story and raising awareness about driving recklessly helps him heal. And hearing other parent's stories helps him feel normal.

Hawkes spoke about his son's death to be a proactive voice for other parents. Until teens want to make an internal decision to change the way they drive, nothing is going to change no matter what laws are placed, he said.

Chad Lythgoe, a driver education instructor at Woods Cross High School, makes it his personal responsibility to enforce the seriousness of safe driving. He said his class is no longer an "easy A." He believes that in order to see change in teen driving, parents need to set a good example and talk frequently about the serious consequences of not following the laws.

According to the Utah Teen Driving Task Force, wearing a seat belt is one of the best ways to decrease injuries and deaths in a motor vehicle crash. Utah law requires all children under the age of 19 to be properly restrained in a motor vehicle. While adults are also required by law to wear seat belts in Utah, enforcement is by a "secondary seat belt law" that allows officers to cite unbelted drivers only if they are pulled over for another, unrelated traffic violation.

This is the third year the Utah Department of Health has collected the stories of the lives lost in car accidents and made them into a book called, "You Don't Get to Say Goodbye." The book is used as a prevention tool to help others realize the impact of the driving decisions they make. It is distributed to all high school drivers education classes in Utah.

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