Students reflect on driving after wreck

By Ed Brock

Jeremy Jones admits he drives too fast, but the death of his friend and classmate 16-year-old Darren Brooks in a head-on collision with a school bus Monday morning has given him pause.

"You don't think about how to drive, you're just happy to be driving," 17-year-old Jones said. "Being cool just isn't worth it."

Brooks was apparently hurrying to get back to Lovejoy High School on McDonough Road with three passengers in his Pontiac Sunfire when he went off the road, over corrected and swerved into the path of the bus, Clayton County police spokesman Capt. Jeff Turner said.

A passenger in Brooks' car, 15-year-old Justin Phillips, was also killed while two other passengers, Armonne Gallow and Kenneth Colvin, both 15, were seriously injured.

Colvin remained in critical condition at Atlanta Medical Center in Atlanta as of Tuesday and Gallow was in good condition, hospital administrative supervisor Richard Wimbush said.

The accident happened a few hundred yards from the site of an Oct. 1, 2001 accident that killed 20-year-old Corey Alan Lovett, a passenger in a car driven by 19-year-old DeWayne Ellis.

Speed was a factor in that accident as well, but speeding is always a problem on that stretch of road, said Carolyne Rentz, owner of Wonder Years Child Care in front of which Monday's accident occurred.

"They just fly by here," Rentz said.

Brooks was also in violation of restrictions on his license, which he had obtained earlier this month, that forbid him from having non-family members as passengers for the first six months after obtaining the license, Clayton County Sheriff's Department Sgt. Tina Daniel said.

Daniel oversees the department's Deputies Riding In Vehicles Educating Students Program, a free program designed to prepare young would-be drivers for their license test. After the first six months, drivers with a Class D restricted license can only have three people in the car and cannot drive between midnight and 6 a.m., restrictions that Daniel said remain in place until the driver is 18.

"And that's only if you don't get certain violations (including hit and runs, driving under the influence and eluding police)," Daniel said.

The DRIVES program isn't just for the benefit of the student driver.

"A lot of parents don't realize the repercussions of the kids not following the law," Daniel said. "We try to get that point across to them."

The next DRIVES class will be on April 5, and for information on registering call (678) 479-5315.

The new law also requires new drivers to complete a driver's education course, something Clayton County schools have not provided since the state stopped providing funds for it several years ago, said Assistant Superintendent of Area 3 Linda Tanner.

Despite the change in the law that took effect last year the Georgia Department of Education has not brought up the subject in talking with the county's school system, Tanner said.

"We are still looking at class size, we are still looking at core curriculum," Tanner said.

There is currently no room in the county school system's budget to pay for such a program that would require cars, insurance and certified instructors, Tanner said.

For now, Clayton County teens and their parents have to foot the cost of private lessons at schools like A-1 Driving in Jonesboro. A package there that includes 30 hours of classroom instruction and six hours of on-the-road instruction costs $349, A-1 employee Wendy Luna said.

But that price is tax-deductible and helps reduce the cost of insurance, Luna said.