Mother of Howard teen killed in November crash speaks out

January 30, 2010|By Medina Roshan Patuxent Publications

Nancy Davis has a message for the friends of her son, who died in a crash police say was alcohol-related: Don't drink.

Davis' son, Steven Dankos, a 17-year-old senior at River Hill High School, died Nov. 29 when thrown from the flatbed of a truck in which he was riding.

The driver of the truck, 22-year-old David Dixon Erdman II of Ellicott City, was indicted Jan. 20 on charges of vehicular homicide, manslaughter and driving under the influence of alcohol. Another passenger in the truck - the driver's younger brother, Thomas Erdman - was treated at Maryland Shock Trauma Center and released the day of the crash.

In the aftermath of her son's death, Davis, 49, of Clarksville has seen an outpouring of support from the community, particularly her son's friends.

"These kids have been wonderful; they all wanted to know what they could do for me," Davis said during an interview at her home this week. "My answer would be, 'Quit drinking.' There's not one good thing that can come from drinking."

The best tribute her son's peers can pay, Davis said, is to understand the dangers of underage drinking and drinking and driving.

The crash occurred about a day after Dankos and Thomas Erdman had played in and lost in the Class 3A state semifinals with the River Hill football team, on a night when Davis said she believes there were several parties in the area. She would not comment on whether alcohol had been served at any of the parties, or even whether her son attended a party the night he died.

Davis spoke for the first time publicly about her son's death and the issue of teen drinking at a Jan. 19 event at River Hill organized by HC DrugFree, a nonprofit that holds educational programs for teens and parents aimed at preventing drug and alcohol use.

Davis made her impromptu comments near the end of the program, when she stood up and shared that a group of her son's friends gathered the day after he died to memorialize him by having a beer.

"There's something wrong with this picture," Davis said at the event.

In an interview a few days later at her home, she added: "They think that they are honoring Steven, but this is not what Steven would want.

"We were all young once. I understand they think it's not going to happen to them ... [but] how do we get through to these kids?" she said.

Joan Webb Scornaienchi, executive director of HC DrugFree, praised Davis for telling her story, something she said opened up dialogue among other parents and teens at the event.

Davis' tragedy stems from a problem that is neither new nor simple, experts say, but one that HC DrugFree and other organizations feel compelled to tackle nonetheless.

According to the 2007 Maryland Adolescent Survey, administered periodically by the Maryland State Department of Education and the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to track alcohol, tobacco and drug use among teens, 13.5 percent of eighth-graders in Howard County have tried beer or wine. By the time they reach 12th grade, the number jumps to 62 percent.

Mike Gimbel, who heads Mike Gimbel Associates, a substance abuse education consulting organization, said efforts must begin earlier to sway children from drinking.

"If we're really going to make a difference and change the norm - because it is the norm - we have to get involved in the elementary and middle schools," said Gimbel, former director of the Bureau of Substance Abuse for Baltimore County.

Additionally, Gimbel said parents who choose to supervise underage drinking are sending the wrong message.

"These parents ... are giving the worst message of all: It's OK to break the law, as long as we're watching," he said. "It is wrong."

Wayne Kirwan, a spokesman for the Howard County state's attorney, said what happened the night Dankos died likely would be revealed during the trial of Erdman, who is scheduled to appear in Circuit Court for arraignment Feb. 26.

For now, Davis cherishes memories of her son and their close bond.

Before he left the evening he died, during their last conversation, Dankos and his mother were outside their home talking about girls he was interested in.

"The last text he sent me ...10 minutes before he passed ... was that he'd met a new girl," Davis said.

Davis said she will eventually do something positive in her son's memory, but is not sure exactly what, adding that a scholarship fund in his name has been established at River Hill.

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