Park to commemorate teen killed while biking Remembrance: A plaque for Christopher Kelley, whose death sparked a push for helmet laws, is intended to add to a sense of community.

June 26, 1998|By Nancy A. Youssef | Nancy A. Youssef,SUN STAFF

A ceremony tomorrow dedicating Warfields Farm Community Park will do more than celebrate the community's 18-year effort behind the park -- it will also remember the life of a boy whose death spurred legislation requiring the use of bicycle helmets.

The program will include the unveiling of a plaque honoring Christopher Kelley, who died in 1990 at the age of 13 after he was struck by a car while riding his bicycle along the pond at what would become this Glenelg park. Christopher, who was not wearing a helmet, died in a neighbor's yard.

That year, Christopher'seighth-grade class at Glenwood Middle School pushed for a law in Howard County to require bicyclists younger than age 16 to wear safety helmets.

The legislation drew national attention, and today, 14 states -- including Maryland -- require young bicyclists to wear helmets.

Bob Buckler, Warfield Estates Citizens Association president, said remembering Christopher is another way to achieve the ultimate goal of the park -- creating a sense of community.

"It's about a park and our community -- [the Kelleys] are a part of our community," Buckler said. "Having the dedication adds another touch to the park."

Buckler suggested last September dedicating a piece of the park to Christopher.

"This was the place he enjoyed coming to," he said.

Christopher's mother, Laura Kelley, said her family was pleasantly surprised to hear about the dedication.

"We were delighted that someone was thinking of him," she said.

In 1980, the park site was 19.8 undeveloped acres with a pond when the community decided to give the land to the county with the intention of creating a public park, Buckler said.

"At that time, I believe there were no other parks in western Howard County," he said.

The park was not completed until September, in part because of a lack of funds for the $1.2 million project. That, however, did not stop children, like Christopher, from visiting the area to see the horses or fish in the pond.

"He died on a Thursday; we were planning to buy him a helmet that Saturday for a class trip," said Laura Kelley, who still lives in Glenwood.

Today, Christopher would not recognize the park. Officials have added a tennis court, volleyball net, tot lot, basketball court, picnic area, a pier, trails and a horseshoe pit.

But for Laura Kelley, the most important thing the community did for her son was to push for bike helmet laws, not only for Howard County but for the nation.

"It meant that the devastating thing that happened to our family might not happen to someone else's," Kelley said. "His life had a little purpose."

"A small number of parents believe this legislation is unnecessary, but Maryland has found it extremely successful," said Erich Daub, director of Maryland's Office of Injury and Disability Prevention. "Helmets have been proven to reduce the chance of severe head injury by about 80 percent."

Many children continue to ride without helmets because of a lack of enforcement by parents and officials.

At Johns Hopkins University hospital last year, only 5 percent of children younger than 14 admitted because of bicycle accidents were wearing helmets. Nationally, the figure is 1 percent, said Johns Hopkins pediatric trauma nurse Mary Ellen Wilson.

While officials are unsure why the figure is so low, Wilson says it might be a sign that the helmets are working.

"If they are wearing a helmet, they wouldn't come to the hospital," Wilson said.

But many others believe the statistics show that it is time for officials and parents to do more.

Maryland State Highway Administration figures show no significant drop in the number of fatalities and accidents involving bicyclists younger than age 18. On average, about five children have died every year since 1993 of bicycle-related accidents and 567 have been injured, according to Rita Chapple, an SHA spokeswoman.

State police officials said the laws in place are designed primarily to emphasize the importance of helmets. The law "is for informative and educational purposes only," said state police Sgt. Laura Lu Herman. Enforcement "is everybody's responsibility."

"I think we can pin the blame solely on the parents," said Steve Kaiser, former chairman of the Maryland state bicycle advisory committee.

For Kelley, her experience should be reason enough. "It just seems so foolish that people aren't wearing" helmets, she said.

The dedication ceremony begins at 10: 30 a.m. tomorrow at Warfields Farm Community Park, 14523 MacClintock Drive.

Pub Date: 6/26/98

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