The loss of a child in an automobile accident leaves pain and sorrow that never completely go away. However, through the grieving process, many families somehow discover the strength and resources to try to prevent others from similar suffering.
On June 4, a crowd of strong supporters gathered at the back parking lot of the Medina County Career Center, 1101 West Liberty Street, Medina, where they were joined by some parents who have suffered this loss, courageous families who have taken steps to try to save even one life through a program called Take Control, winner of the 2014 "I Contribute" award from the Ohio Department of Public Safety's Safer Ohio Initiative.
Presentations by Steve Chrisman/Superintendent/Medina County Career Center, Sgt. Christopher LaFond, Montville Chief of Police Terry Grice, Judge Kevin Dunn/Medina County Juvenile and Probate Court, Jani Groza/Westfield, Sgt. Schmoll, and Thomas Stickrath/Director, Ohio Department of Public Safety, described an addition to the program being used to achieve this goal.
Joining them as speakers on the podium (as well as appearing in a very moving video) were parents Chris and Laura DePiero (children Erin and Andrew Ehrbar, died in 2010), Phil and Tammy Schaffer with son Clinton (daughter Jessica, died in 2008), and Ray and Debbie Sanderbeck (daughter Michelle, died in 2006). These individuals shared emotions about such tragic losses, their own and others, and said they are fully committed to sparing others from tragedy any way they can.
Montville Chief of Police Terry Grice was instrumental in bringing together the collaboration of willing and dedicated people and organizations who got the Take Control program started in the parking lot of Westfield in 2013, where it was conducted until this move to the newly built and dedicated Driving Skills Pad at the Career Center.
The DePieros, who founded The Ehrbar Angels Foundation, felt compelled to do something. "We couldn't just sit around with pain because it just got worse. Then Chief Grice told us about Take Control and we said we're in. We had a purpose, Erin and Andrew were driving us, and they still do." A $50,000 donation raised from their foundation's golf outing went towards creating the driving pad.
The Schaffers established The Jessica Lynn Schaffer Memorial Fund. The advice they offered to other families on how to turn grief into something positive was, "Don't focus on all the negative things. Look for good people reaching out to you."
The Sanderbecks started The M-Star Foundation. An emotional Ray Sanderbeck said this site shows progress, gives hope, although they can never forget.
Grice said the families immediately bought into this idea. "They all knew it was worthwhile, and when we approached the school, there wasn't even a second's hesitation on their part. It shows what Medina county is about, helping each other."
On the highly reinforced pad, police officers help teens gain experience and confidence in difficult driving situations with advanced training in emergency braking, accident avoidance techniques, skid and off-road recovery, and collision avoidance.
The shared cost of this 2.5-acre concrete pad was more than $750,000. MCCC, Westfield, and the state made generous contributions, as did the others who are part of the collaborative effort: Medina County Law Enforcement, Ehrbar Angels Foundation, Jessica Lynn Schaffer Memorial fund, M-Star Foundation, and County Probate/Juvenile Court Judge Kevin Dunn.
Dunn told the audience the period between Memorial Day and Labor Day, known as "The 100 Deadliest Days" according to highway authorities, averages about 10 fatalities per day involving teen drivers and occupants, 14 percent higher than the rest of the year. He praised the people who have come forward to promote this program in an effort to reduce those numbers.
Westfield Representative Jani Groza said this program was one of the best the company has ever been involved with; "It is a coming-together of government, businesses, and private citizens to protect children."
Morgan, one of the more than 800 students to go through the program since it began, said it was really good, very helpful, and she learned a lot. She added, "It really opened my eyes, I won't forget what I learned."
Another student participant said, "I think it should be a requirement because of how much it helped me." Ninety percent of participants who were involved in an accident said they used the skills they learned to lessen the severity of their accident.
A representative from Tri-Mor, who made the cost of the concrete affordable, presented the parents with a photo book showing the progress during the building of the Driving Pad, after which all the involved participants gathered at the gate where the ribbon cutting took place.
A sign with the key names is permanently built at the gated entrance to the pad. Recognized on the sign are Westfield, Judge Dunn, M-Star Foundation, Medina County Career Center, Jessica Lynn Schaffer Memorial Fund, and Ehrbar Angels Foundation.
The Take Control class is free of charge to all drivers between the ages of 16 and 19 who have a valid driver's license. It is held the third Saturday of each month at the Medina County Career Center, and its goal is to save children. To register, please call the Montville Police Department, 330-661-0122. Parents will not be permitted to participate in the driving portion; however, parents are encouraged to observe the program.
In addition to presenting the Take Control program, the pad will serve as a training site for Medina County's Safety Services.