Grief fuels Idaho parents' action

Car crashes are the No. 1 killer of teenagers in Idaho, and parents who have lost children spread the message

kmoeller@idahostatesman.comApril 23, 2013 

  • TEEN SAFETY TOWN HALL

    • 6:30 p.m.- 8 p.m., Thursday

    • Meridian City Hall, 33 E. Broadway Ave.

    • Free and open to the public.

    Details: Members of four Treasure Valley families who have recently lost children in a car crash. Law enforcement officials will offer tips.

    Discussion: What more can the community do to reduce the number of teens killed in crashes?

Sheri Rogers and her husband, Duke, are both registered nurses who have dedicated their lives to caring for others.

Since losing their youngest child in a car crash near Table Rock in September, they've been working only part-time. But they are busier than ever, serving as safety advocates in the hopes of saving other children's lives.

The Meridian couple created a nonprofit called Buckle Up For Bobby, and they've crisscrossed the state speaking to children, parents and anyone else who'll listen about how wearing seat belts can save lives in car crashes.

They've spoken at high schools, colleges, malls, churches and workplaces.

"It's very healing for us to speak to kids and get their feedback and hear their stories," said Sheri Rogers, who will speak at her late son's school, Mountain View High, on May 2. Bobby would have turned 17 on May 3.

They've held several community events and raised thousands of dollars to fund $500 scholarships for high school seniors or college students who complete the "Alive at 25" driver-education training and write an essay about what they learned.

On Thursday, the Rogers will participate in the Teen Safety Town Hall in Meridian. At 6:30 p.m., they'll be on a panel of parents who have recently lost children in car crashes.

Meridian police will offer registration for those who want to sign up for the "Alive at 25" classes, designed for drivers age 15 to 24.

BAD NEWS AND GOOD

There were 4,648 crashes involving Idaho drivers age 15 to 19 in 2011, according to the Idaho Transportation Department.

The good news: State data show that crashes involving young drivers fell each year from 2007 to 2011. The total number of crashes is down about 30 percent from 2007.

The bad news: More than 30 deaths and nearly 800 injuries each year result from young driver crashes - and crashes are the No. 1 cause of death for Idaho teens.

There's incalculable suffering behind these statistics. The Rogers aren't the first Treasure Valley parents to turn their grief into action, and they're painfully aware they won't be the last.

Liz Catherman was a vocal advocate for Meridian's 2010 texting ban, the first in the Treasure Valley.

Catherman's 18-year-old daughter, Kassandra Kerfoot, was killed in December 2009, when her car drifted into oncoming traffic on Eagle Road. She'd been texting before the crash and wasn't buckled in.

Catherman helped produce a school poster urging teen drivers not to text while driving and she testified before legislators.

Clay and Shauna Sauer, of Caldwell - parents of Taylor Sauer - also publicly advocated for a texting ban, appearing on the "Today Show" after their daughter's death in March 2012.

Taylor Sauer was killed in a crash on Interstate 84. The Marsing High grad was posting messages on Facebook while driving home from Utah State University.

Investigators said her car was traveling about 80 mph when it rammed into a semi-truck pulling a tanker trailer that was crawling up a hill in Elmore County.

The last message she posted is at the top of Taylor's Corner, the Facebook page created in her memory: "I can't discuss this now. Driving and facebooking is not safe!"

Last year, Idaho became the 37th state to enact a ban on texting while driving.

DANGEROUS ROADS

Distracted driving and buckling up aren't the only issues parents are tackling. One Eagle dad is pushing for changes he believes will improve the intersection where his daughter suffered fatal injuries in December.

Shauna Hill, 16, was driving home from an orchestra concert on Floating Feather Road when her Honda Accord was broadsided by a Jeep traveling on Idaho 16.

Edward Hill, a retired Navy pilot, wants to see speed on the Idaho 16 reduced from 65 mph to 45 mph between State Street to Beacon Light Road and wants a signal installed to make it safer for east-west traffic to cross the highway.

Hill says he feels his pleas have fallen on deaf ears, so he's delivering a petition with 2,600 signatures to ITD officials Wednesday.

ITD spokesman Reed Hollinshead said Hill is scheduled to meet with Deputy Director Scott Stokes and Dave Jones, the district engineer for Southwest Idaho.

"Future steps are not yet determined," Hollinshead said.

'NEW NORMAL'

"We can't ever begin to tell you how hard it is to tell Bobby's story," Sheri Rogers told a group of teenagers in a driver's education class at Melba High School on a chilly morning in early March.

The students listened attentively as the bereaved parents from Meridian told of losing their youngest son while he was out having fun with friends, at least some of whom had been drinking and making bad decisions.

Bobby was a junior at Mountain View High. He was riding unbuckled in the back seat of an acquaintance's car on the night of Sept. 9. When the car left the road near Table Rock, he was ejected and died at the scene.

The driver of the vehicle, Tiffany Walters, 17, also was killed. Braden Connolly, 17, was seriously injured. A 20-year-old in the car, whose name wasn't released by police, was not injured.

None were wearing seat belts, Ada County Sheriff's spokeswoman Andrea Dearden said.

The group had piled into a Hyundai Tiburon to take a short ride to see if they could diagnose the source of a noise the car was making, Sheri Rogers said. Walters failed to negotiate a curve and the car went down an embankment.

"This was the worst day of my life," Sheri Rogers said.

The Rogers talked to the Melba students about other losses following Bobby's death. His brother, Luke, moved out of the family's home and moved in with his older brother.

"He can't wake up in the morning and not have his brother down the hall," Sheri Rogers.

The Rogers told the students about a "new normal" of lives forever changed. Some days they find it difficult to function, but their new mission helps them soldier on.

Their daughter, Kayla, a senior at the University of Idaho, returned home. She's finishing her last semester online and will graduate soon.

"We've had some good family time," Sheri Rogers said. On Saturday, Kayla ran the Race to Robie Creek wearing a shirt that read "Doing it 4 Bobby."

The family goes to church more often.

"Heaven is sweeter now that we have a kiddo up there," she said. "I really believe that's where he is."

Katy Moeller: 377-6413

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