Tuesday's fatal crash involving two teens in Havre de Grace was a flashback to Ann Nash - a ghastly reminder of her daughter's death three years ago, an event that prompted her to found the county's safe-driving crusade.
The Safe Driving Campaign was born out of a conversation Nash, a White Hall resident, had in a church hallway with her minister, the Rev. Bruce Barstow of Bethel Presbyterian in White Hall a year after her daughter Meaghan died.
"I'm here as a reminder, I guess, of the decisions drivers make," Nash said. Michele, Meaghan's twin, is 18. Kevin, Nash's eldest child, is 21. "And my message is, make the most of your beautiful lives."
Someone in her community had remarked on the seemingly increasing number of car accidents in Harford County, Nash said, especially those involving teen-agers. They wondered aloud what to do about it, and, slowly, Barstow, Nash and about a half-dozen community members and government representatives forged a grass-roots group.
The goal, Barstow said, is to tell Harford County drivers to slow down.
"Basically, it's just that good-hearted people are just getting too focused on getting where they want to go and they are not thinking about how driving impacts the welfare and safety of others," Barstow said.
The campaign prints posters with monthly slogans developed by Barstow - such as "Safe Drivers know the life they save may be yours." They are hung in schools, libraries and public offices. It sets up demonstration booths at local fairs and at homecoming football games, delivering its message with posters of slogans and photos of crosses staked at highway crash sites.
Barstow said the group's message is tailored to reach all drivers. Yet the reality of the dangers associated with novice drivers was illustrated last week, when one Havre de Grace High School student was killed and another injured shortly after school was dismissed.
William Lee, 15, of Currier Street in Havre de Grace was a passenger in a Honda driven by Brandon Harkins, 17, of Darlington. According to news and police reports, Harkins was traveling west on Route 155 and tried to pass a van in front of him. His car hit the van and spun into oncoming traffic, police said. A Mercury then collided with the passenger side of Harkins' car. Harkins was treated and released from Maryland Shock Trauma Center. Lee died at the scene, police reports said. He, like Meaghan Nash, was blocks from home.
Ruth Rowley, 72, of the 700 block of Jessie Court in Bel Air, a passenger in the Mercury, remains hospitalized; and Alberta M. Breining, also 72, of the 2300 block of Tide Circle in Havre de Grace, driver of the Mercury, was released after treatment, police said.
Car crashes are the leading cause of death among teens, a 2000 study by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health showed. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, as many as two out of five deaths among teens are the result of these accidents each year. Teens between the ages of 16 and 19, the CDC reported, are four times more likely than older drivers to crash - and that risk is particularly high in their early driving years.
According to Kathy Acquavella, Harford County's highway safety coordinator, the county has made it a priority to reduce its number of young-driver accidents.
Acquavella said the number of county crashes involving teens grew to 961 last year, up from 927 in 2001. Of the 2002 accidents, nine were fatal, up from six the year before.
`Don't worry, Mom'
"Kids think they are immortal," said Nash, a financial coordinator, in an interview in her Monkton office. "Meaghan always said to me, `Don't worry, Mom. Nothing is going to happen to me.'"
But a few days before Christmas 2000, Meaghan Nash, 15, rode down Jarrettsville Pike with her 18-year-old pal, Jason Randall Kuhn, who lived just down the road, to rent a movie. The car skidded off the icy road and hit an embankment, police said at the time. Nash died at the scene. Police said Kuhn had been driving too fast for conditions. He was treated and released from Maryland Shock Trauma Center.
That day, Michele learned she would step through life solo. And, that day, Meaghan's mother, Ann, stepped into a blur of endless days, where, she said, her heart hangs so heavy it weighs down her mind. She has taken to jotting notes in a journal to remember even simple things, such as part of the name of the 4-H award given in honor of Meaghan, or the name of the ad hoc group she and neighbors formed two years ago to heighten the community's awareness of safe driving.
Speaking at North Harford High School's graduation ceremony in June, where Michele graduated and where Nash awarded two $1,000 scholarships from a trust fund established in Meaghan's name, Nash admonished the graduates: "In a split second, it could happen to you."