A deadly crash near a private Gaithersburg school has recast the spotlight on teen driving safety.
Montgomery County's Collision Reconstruction Unit is investigating whether street racing played a role in a serious Friday afternoon crash along Muncaster Mill Road. The collision killed Teressa French, 16, of Washington D.C. and seriously injured her friend, Emma Lowe, 13, of Gaithersburg. Both girls, students at Covenant Life School, were walking along the sidewalk when two cars collided and ran them over.
Around 2:20 p.m. Friday, nearby Magruder High School's parking lot shuffled hundreds of cars onto Muncaster Mill Road. Among the students driving home, Oscar Fuentes, 17, and Hugo Rompante, 17, both of Gaithersburg. Police say Fuentes was driving alone in his 1996 Honda Accord. Rompante was behind the wheel of a 2004 Chrysler Sebring, with classmates Johnny Boykin Jr., 19, and Keanu Lee, 17, in passenger seats.
Shortly before 2:30 p.m., a husband and wife heard both cars revving their engines while stopped at the intersection of Muncaster Mill and Shady Grove Roads. When the stoplight turned green, the couple told investigators both cars raced down the 35 mph roadway until failing to merge and consequently spinning out-of-control.
Montgomery County District Court records reveal prior to Friday's crash, Fuentes already had a traffic record. In October 2013, the 17-year-old was caught going 44 mph along Epsilon Drive in Gaithersburg. The residential roadway has a posted speed limit of 25 mph.
By late Monday morning, police had placed a mobile message board near the crash site. The electronic device, which flashes bright orange safety messages, urges drivers to buckle-up, slow down and refrain from texting.
Magruder High School Reacts:
Meanwhile at Magruder High School, the halls rang with rumors and strong opinions about the reported callousness displayed by two of their classmates.
"We're not really a bad school, it's just bad luck and some bad decisions by certain teenagers," junior Kenneth Montemayor suggested.
Magruder, a school of about 1700 students, has witnessed its fair share of tragedy. In May 2011, a late night alcohol-induced crash killed three teenagers, and injured two others. Four were recent Magruder graduates, while one was less than a month away from receiving their diploma.
"All the safety talks, it just sounds like a broken record to them [certain students], and they just end-up ignoring it," junior Azevedo Evantanto remarked.
In a note home to parents, Magruder High School principal Lee Evans wrote in part, "Many of you are aware of the serious accident that occurred after school on Friday that involved some of our students... I will be sending condolences on behalf of the Magruder High School community to Covenant Life and the families involved."
Schools Can't Act Alone
For years, Montgomery County Public Schools has hammered-home the raw perils of unsafe driving at all 25 of its high schools. In 2008 and 2009, Magruder High School invited ABC7's Leon Harris to host a "Drive To Stay Alive" assembly. MCPS spokesman Dana Tofig says the school system also incorporates safe driving practices into its high school health curriculum.
"Driving is a privilege, it's not an entitlement," Montgomery County Police Department Capt. Tom Didone said "The parents need to recognize their children are the most dangerous drivers on the road, and they got to be parents."
According to department data, car crashes are the number one cause of teen deaths in the U.S. In 2008, 2,739 teenagers died in U.S. car accidents; 55 percent weren't wearing their seatbelt at the time.
"Teens are the most inexperienced, immature and overconfident drivers out there. It's plain and simple," Capt. Didone added.
Due to the complexity of the crash, police say their investigation could take anywhere from three weeks to three months to complete. Should the witness accounts of street racing hold true, the Montgomery County State's Attorney's Office could file considerable charges against both drivers.
Emma Lowe's Recovery
A first-year student at Covenant Life School, principal Jamie Leach said the 8th grader continues to recover at Children's National Medical Center in Washington D.C. While the 13-year-old faces a long road of emotional healing, her most severe physical injuries include two broken legs. In a written statement, her parents said:
"Emma had surgery this morning [Saturday], and the doctors report that things went very well. She is stable, and her injuries are not life threatening, but her road to a complete recovery is expected to be a long one. While we covet your prayers, it is best that Emma does not have visitors right now so that she can get the rest she needs. We will let you know how she progresses and when she might be ready to have visitors again."