Local accidents during '100 deadliest days' place driver safety in spotlight

DANSVILLE — In the wake of two fatal automobile accidents that claimed the lives of five local residents in the span of less than a week in late July, officials are hoping the tragedies can save others in the future.

A one-car MVA in the early morning hours July 27 took four young lives at the T-intersection of county Route 13C and County Road 13 in Burns — the driver, Rebecca L. Earner, 16, of Dansville; and three passengers, Ambra E. Eddleton, 16, Justin D. Carpenter, 14, and Kyrstin L. Wolfanger, 14, all of Dansville. The front seat passenger, Kelsi A. Bird, 16, of Dansville, survived. She was the only person wearing a seat belt, State Police said.

A few days earlier, on Tuesday, July 23, another one-car MVA resulted in the death of Emilee Rawleigh, 21, of Atlanta. The Dansville graduate was a passenger in a vehicle that drove off county Road 36 near Sawdust Road. Troopers said a 17-year-old was driving when the accident occurred.

Both accidents underscored the importance of driver safety, particularly among young people. Information released by State Police has indicated both incidents could have been avoided if vehicular laws and driver safety practices had been followed.

As a new school year approaches, Dansville Superintendent Paul Alioto said driver safety will be a major point of emphasis moving forward.

“Regretfully, now we have a tangible example to use with kids in our health classes. At every opportunity, we have to talk to them about driver safety,” Alioto said.

Both accidents occurred during a period AAA calls “the 100 Deadliest Days.”

“Over the past five years, nearly 3,500 people have been killed in crashes involving teen drivers during the 100 Deadliest Days, the period between Memorial Day and Labor Day, when the number of crash fatalities involving a teen driver historically rise,” AAA stated in a press release. “We have seen multiple deadly crashes in New York State this summer. Crash data from 2003-2017 reveals major factors contributing to fatal teen crashes during the summer driving period include: speeding (28 percent), drinking and driving (17 percent), distraction (9 percent)." 

Over the past five years during the 100 Deadliest Days:

• An average of almost 700 people died each year in crashes involving teen drivers.

• The average number of deaths from crashes involving teen drivers ages 15-18 was 17% higher per day compared to other days of the year.

The tragic example of the recent accidents could serve as a warning and a lesson to other young drivers, potentially saving lives. Alioto noted the powerful eulogy delivered by John Rawleigh, Emilee’s father.

“The most profound expression of grief and instruction came from the father of Emilee Rawleigh, our alumnus. He had the courage to seize that opportunity in his grief, to inform young people who were at the funeral and hopefully many, many more that their choices have ramifications that affect many, many others,” Alioto said.

A transcript of the address was shared many times on social media. Rawleigh urged the audience to honor Emilee’s memory by using her story as “an inspiration for change.”

“I want each and every one of you to honor her life and memory so that her death is not meaningless, just a number, or a story you read on social media, but an inspiration for change. And maybe save the life of a friend that is sitting next to you,” he said. “Hold your friends accountable. Wear a seatbelt, put the phone down, don’t allow open containers in your car, pull the vehicle over, call someone. These are choices that are still in the power of your life to make. Honor her memory. Thank you for your support and the opportunity to celebrate the life of our daughter.”