WESTFIELD CENTER: Laura Ehrbar DePiero lost her two children in a car crash three years ago. It happened right outside the family’s Granger Township home when a passing car struck the vehicle her 16-year-old daughter, Erin, was driving.
DePiero’s son, Andrew, 13, also died after the crash. The other driver was a teen who, like Erin and Andrew, also attended Highland schools.
Three years later, DePiero still wipes tears as she recalls that tragic April day in 2010.
On Thursday, DePiero spoke in her children’s memories while promoting a free teen-driving program Montville police created with the idea of helping other families and teens avoid the sorrow hers endured.
“This allows us to funnel our grief into something positive,” DePiero said. “We knew our kids were going to make a difference in this world, and we have to do it for them now.”
The concept, called Take Control, is about collision avoidance, defensive driving and braking safely. The instructors are certified police officers. It is a no-cost, three-hour class especially designed for new drivers age 16 to 19.
Statistically, teen drivers are more likely to be involved in fatal crashes than other drivers. Police say nearly 3,000 teens die every year in car crashes.
The first Take Control program will be held June 15 and every third Saturday of the month afterward outside the offices of program co-sponsor Westfield Insurance in Westfield Center.
Funding comes through a variety of sources, including the Ehrbar Angels Foundation, created in memory of Erin and Andrew. In addition, Bill Doraty Kia donated three vehicles.
The MStar Foundation and Brunswick Blue Pride, both of which were created in memory of teens who died in car crashes, also contributed funding.
“Take Control is of such utmost importance to us because of my children, Erin and Andrew,” DePiero said. “We felt compelled to do something good, and helping kids to learn things you can’t learn out on the street. This is a controlled environment where they’re going to learn skills and have those tools to take out on the road.”
Montville police Chief Terry Grice said the project has been in the works since 2010. He said it is a unique collaboration between law enforcement, Medina County Juvenile Court, local businesses and the charitable foundations.
He said the accident-related deaths of teens, including last year’s crash in Brunswick that killed four teens on Boston Road, is one of the toughest assignments for any officer.
“When that situation deals with kids, it makes it just a tragic situation,” Grice said. “The role behind this is to reduce that by just one. It sounds cliche, but if you can reduce it by just one, this program is a huge success.”
To register a driver, or for more information, call Montville police at 330-661-0122. The program is open to all licensed teens, however, because there are limited spaces, drivers from Medina County will received preferred placement.
Phil Trexler can be reached at 330-996-3717 or email@example.com.