Teen wrecks show importance of education

by Wes Mayer

In the last few years, too many people, many of them only teens, have lost their lives in tragic car accidents in Coweta County.

A FEAR THIS Inc. Teen Vehicle Operations Course is coming to the county later this month, in an effort to teach skills that organizers hope will save lives.

Coweta County has had a number of teens who lost their own lives or caused others to lose their lives in car accidents. The upcoming class will show how important it is for younger drivers to be better trained behind the wheel.

Just last month, Zachary Harrison, 18, a Newnan High School senior, succumbed to injuries he sustained in a car accident. On May 22, Harrison was the front seat passenger in a car with three of his friends when the driver lost control on Corinth Road, swerved off the road and collided with a grouping of trees. All four passengers were entrapped in the vehicle. The accident happened when Harrison was only a day away from graduating high school.

Harrison, following a week in the hospital, was not able to recover from his injuries, and he passed away on May 30.

Last September, another single-vehicle accident involving four teenage friends occurred on Smokey Road. Around 3 a.m., the friends were driving down the road when the driver lost control, swerved between lanes and traveled off both sides of the road more than once. The vehicle eventually flipped and overturned multiple times. Both the driver, Joseph Brian Shelnutt, 17, and the front seat passenger, Austin Walker Pope, 16, were ejected from the vehicle. Pope did not survive. The other three teens were transported to Atlanta Medical Center.

After an investigation by the Georgia State Patrol, it was determined Shelnutt was driving under the influence of alcohol. So not only did Pope lose his life and Shelnutt lose a friend, but Shelnutt was indicted for vehicular homicide in the first degree along with numerous other traffic violations.

In May 2013, a junior at The Heritage School lost his life in a single-vehicle accident. Tyler Henson, 17, was on his way to pick up his girlfriend from Northgate when he lost control of his vehicle, traveled off Brimer Road, hit a culvert and flipped into the air, landing upside down. Henson did not survive the accident.

Henson was a star athlete at The Heritage School. He played defensive end and tight end on the football team, he threw shot put and discus for the track team, and he played on both the basketball team and baseball team.

All these accidents were frighteningly similar – they all involved vehicles traveling off the road and male teenage drivers losing control. But one accident in December 2012 was much different.

On Dec. 22, Taylor Long, who was 18 at the time, ran a red light at the intersection of Newnan Crossing Bypass and Lower Fayetteville Road. Long collided with the Bacho family’s van, striking the side of the vehicle directly where 9-year-old Abby and her father were sitting. Abby and her father were both critically injured and placed into induced comas, but Abby was unable to recover. The family took Abby off life support on Christmas day.

Following an investigation by the Newnan Police Department, it was determined Long was not driving under the influence, texting or driving recklessly. Because of this, he was charged with misdemeanor vehicular homicide, and in September 2013, Long was sentenced to 12 months of probation with six months to serve on a work-release schedule where he worked during the day but spent the night in jail.

Now, Abby lives on through the Abby’s Angels Foundation, founded by her mother and father, Natalie and Stephen. The foundation has been active in the community since its creation, and through it, Abby’s Closet was started. The closet collects and donates school supplies to school children whose families can’t afford them.

The Abby’s Angels Foundation is also helping to bring the FEAR THIS Inc. teen drivers course to Coweta County. Natalie Bacho found out about the organization and its driving course at January’s Hudson Family Foundation concert in Auburn, AL, she said, and got in touch with its founder, Woodrow Gaines, in order to bring the course to Coweta.

Bacho said she hopes to continue having FEAR THIS courses twice a year in Coweta County. She hopes that, through the course, younger drivers will get much more experience and lives will be saved.



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