Families Honor the Lives of Teen Crash Victims

(Salt Lake City, UT) – In 2017, 27 teens lost their lives in motor vehicle crashes on Utah roads.

For more than a decade, the Utah Department of Health (UDOH) and the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) have compiled the stories of teens killed in motor vehicle crashes into a book that is released annually to high school driver education classes as well as state and local agencies, policymakers, etc. The purpose in doing so is to help Utah drivers of all ages understand the impact their decisions on the road have on others.

Gina and Lemuel Harsh lost their 19-year-old son, Robert, when he was hit and killed while walking to a local restaurant on the night before Thanksgiving. Believing their son was asleep in his room, the Harshs didn’t worry at first when they saw a news report on Thanksgiving morning about a pedestrian who had been killed by a drunk driver just around the corner from their home, but as the day went on, and Robert did not respond to texts or phone calls, the couple began to fear the worst.

“My husband called the police and gave a description of Robert. Finally, the police knocked on our door and told us that the young man who was killed in the hit and run the night before was Robert; they hadn’t found any ID or they would have contacted us earlier. They assured us that witnesses saw Robert push the crosswalk button and wait for the light. He did everything right,” said Mrs. Harsh.

Of the 27 teens killed in motor vehicle crashes in 2017, 22% were pedestrians. Sixteen-year-old Alexis Nelson, of Perry, Utah, was struck by a vehicle and killed while attempting to cross a highway with a friend so they could purchase pumpkins at a local fruit stand. “Our lives have been forever changed, and I know I drive a lot more aware of pedestrians and other distracted drivers,” said Melani Nelson, Alexis’ mother.

“The loss of a child is a grief no parent should have to feel, and we don’t want another family to experience this type of anguish,” UDOT executive director Carlos Braceras said. “Each of these crashes is preventable. We must reach Zero Fatalities, for teens, and for everyone else on our roads.”

In addition to the book, the UDOH released a video showing the impact of the project over the last 10 years. Included in the video are stories of families who have worked with their local schools, communities, and legislators to help change attitudes, driving behaviors, and even state laws on traffic safety in an effort to reach zero fatalities on Utah roadways. Utah Representative Lt. Lee Perry and Carrie Moore, director of The Bradley Center for Grieving Children and Families, are also featured in the video. The video may be viewed at https://bit.ly/2Eia4Bg.

“We know this project – these stories – have made a difference in our state,” said Joseph Miner, executive director of the UDOH. “Let the lessons of these tragedies take hold in our hearts and in our behaviors that these lives may not be lost in vain. These stories not only live on, but grow to create positive change in our families, communities, and state.”

To download a copy of the book, Living Stories: 2017 Teen Memoriam, visit http://health.utah.gov or http://ut.zerofatalities.com/dont-drive-stupid/.

# # #

Media Contact:
Ryan Bartlett
(0) 801-538-6917 (m) 605-201-7950