01/23/11 — Just a tragedy: Why tell the story? So others will take it to heart.

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Just a tragedy: Why tell the story? So others will take it to heart.

No one likes to report a story that a teenager or young adult has been killed or injured in an automobile accident.

And it is even harder to hear the news when the cause of the death or injury is because of some external factor like drinking while driving, texting or simply showboating behind the wheel.

Wayne County has been lucky. We have only had to deal with a few of these sad occasions over the past couple of years -- although even one young life altered forever or lost is a terrible loss.

In neighboring Johnston County, there have been two student deaths in the span of a week -- and the county has taken aim at teenage driver accidents after a particularly tragedy-filled year.

That is a statistic we do not want to emulate.

So why tell the stories? After all, aren't the parents going through enough already?

The reason these stories make news is two-fold. The first is that people need to know what is happening in their communities -- both so they can support those who are dealing with the tragedy and so that they can hear the details of what occurred not through some exaggerated grapevine, but from the authorities themselves. The second is because there are lessons to be learned and lives to be saved.

Too many young people dismiss the consequences of distracted and impaired driving. They hear the message in school and from their parents, yet they do not think it will happen to them. They do not think about how a moment of "It won't happen to me" can turn into a tragedy that ends their life or someone else's.

They do not think about what it would be like to be in a courtroom explaining to a judge why they were behind the wheel when they had been drinking -- or how it would feel to be responsible for a friend never coming home.

They hear the stories and the rumors, but until they see the consequences and hear the details, it is still only an allegory -- a lesson to be applied to someone else's life.

It is always tragic when a life is ended before its time. It is especially heart-wrenching to lose a young life that has not even had the chance to be lived.

Our hearts should go out to the families who are dealing with these horrible events in their lives. We can only imagine the pain and shock. No one deserves to have to live through this kind of tragedy.

But that leaves us with the thousands of other Wayne County children -- pre-teens who are just starting to explore their worlds and develop into young adults and teenagers who are fighting peer pressure and mixed messages all around them.

How do we make sure that they understand how dangerous it is to get behind the wheel of a car when you have been drinking or that it is the right thing to do to take someone's keys when they have been drinking? How do we get them to understand that a moment or two of inattention or that hurriedly typed text message could put you or someone you care about in a wheelchair?

And how do we make them understand the horror and despair of making a mistake that ends up taking an innocent person's life?

One step in that battle is to let them know that there are real consequences to decisions and to show them that no one is insulated from ever making a mistake that changes their lives forever.

We share stories so that, perhaps, it might make a teenager or someone else think twice.

We hope that, perhaps, hearing those stories might save a life. And if it does, we might not be able to undo the unhappiness of one family, but we might be able to save another from the same fate.

Losing even one more Wayne County teen is simply not an option.

That's why we tell the stories.

Published in Editorials on January 23, 2011 12:12 AM