by Jonathan Weaver
Less than 25 miles away from West Shamokin Junior-Senior High School in November 2010, Jenna (Sitosky) Kensey nearly died driving home from her then-fiancé’s house in Penn Run.
Kensey, a first-semester Indiana University of Pennsylvania graduate student at the time, was in her 2007 blue/green Chevrolet Cobalt near Water Tower Hill in Clymer (Indiana County) when a drunk driver in an extended cab pick-up drove through a red light and impacted her vehicle.
Kensey’s tale is one of many Part-time Citizens Ambulance EMT Fred Catchpole tells students and told Friday as well during the school’s “Safe Driving Awareness Day.”
Catchpole was one of the first responders to that vehicle accident shortly before midnight November 24, 2010. He said Kensey was breathing four-times less than the normal limit, and wasn’t confident she was going to live.
“I (found) the most horrendous crash I have ever seen. In all my years of experience, I said to my police officer ‘Jenna’s going to die – I don’t think she’s going to make it,’” Catchpole said. “But, a miracle happened.”
During the next two months, Kensey was treated for multiple injuries and a stroke at three different regional hospitals (in Indiana, Johnstown and Harmarville) and was involved in physical, occupational or speech therapy until she was married two years later.
She is no longer allowed to drive in Pennsylvania, has trouble speaking and never earned her degree in speech language pathology, but Kensey is thankful to be alive.
“I’m glad I’m alive – I’m very, very very lucky,” Kensey told students Friday.
Accident reconstruction determined the driver was traveling more than 60 miles per hour in the 25 mile-per-hour zone.
Jenna’s father, Dave – a retired social studies teacher at West Shamokin – said the family does not drive through that intersection unless they have to.
“Just doesn’t invoke good memories,” Dave said.
Car crashes like Kensey’s are “100 percent preventable,” according to Armstrong Indiana Clarion Drug and Alcohol Commission Prevention Specialist Courtney Hankinson – who presented startling facts to students in a classroom next door.
“Distracted driving kills 4,000 teens nationwide every year, and 75 percent of all teen deaths are related to distracted driving,” Hankinson said. “25 percent are related to alcohol and other drugs.”
The handheld “Wheel of Death” she presented to students measured the probability of an accident in three categories, including different number of passengers and different distractions – such as drinking, texting and playing music.
11th grader Hannah Olinger of Dayton has had her junior drivers’ license for two months after completing the school’s driving education course. For her 16th birthday August 10, Olinger got a 2002 GMC Envoy as a gift.
“It’s pretty real – the stories that we heard with the speakers are pretty devastating,” Olinger said. “Very real and scary, but I learned a lot of new things.”
Olinger was one of the three West Shamokin students that competed in the Regional Safe Driving Competition at Indiana University of Pennsylvania at Northpointe March 27, along with students Taylor Wilson and Stephanie Schrecengost.
Foreign Exchange Student Dora Bezic, from Croatia, turned 16 years old on December 13. She said drivers’ education is difficult for her because some street signs are different than those back home.
Bezic said people also drive recklessly in Croatia – where citizens cannot drive until they are 18 years old.
Bezic – who will finish the school year at West Shamokin – will study in an Arizona high school this fall and achieve her drivers’ license. A passenger of Olinger’s regularly, Bezic referred to Olinger as a safe driver
Both students will attend the senior prom this Friday, with Olinger’s boyfriend – senior Nick Mechling – driving.
Along with the real-life presentations and other activities, students also interacted
with Elderton Borough Police Officer Shaun Milkovich, tested their luck in a DUI simulator and by wearing impairment goggles while driving a go-kart course
“The most important thing is hopefully to reach the hearts of kids and help them make the right decisions,” Catchpole said. “Driving is a privilege, and they need to be responsible.”
Catchpole is also a father of two, and said daughter Ashley was not allowed to drive until she was 17 years old because of his rescue operations.
Ashley has never been in an accident with a drunk driver.
School Drivers Education Teacher Dave Powers met the two presenters through local contacts
Nearly 250 10th, 11th and 12th grade students participated
“It’s about saving lives – if we can save a life by doing this activity every year, we’ve served a purpose,” Powers said.
Armstrong County District Attorney Scott Andreassi, Sheriff Bill Rupert and Coroner Brian Myers also spoke to students, along with Sheriff Deputy Diane Graham and Pennsylvania State Police Lieutenant Tom Dubovi.
Andreassi said about one-third of his caseload each year involves someone who drove under the influence.
“Year after year, people make what Lieutenant Dubovi characterized best as ‘bad decisions,’” Andreassi said. “I’m tired of going to accident scenes and seeing people lying on the side of the road, and the only thing they did wrong was get in their car and drive home that night while the other person made the stupid decision to drink and drive.”
He promised to prosecute students to the fullest extent of the law if they kill someone while drinking and driving.