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Thursday, March 20, 2008

Amity and Milford join to confront teen driving issue

By Brian McCready
Milford Bureau Chief

Over the past six weeks, five teenagers from Milford and Orange lost their lives in traffic accidents.
The pain and difficulty of dealing with that loss has led parents in Milford and the Amity communities of Bethany, Orange and Woodbridge to seek answers about how to talk with their children concerning the deaths. It has also led parents and teens to seek answers on teen driving safety.
Over the next few weeks, Milford and the Amity Regional School District will partner for two events, which administrators in both communities hope will help with the healing, and also lead to solutions.
The first event, at 7 p.m. March 26 at Jonathan Law High School in Milford, will be the open seminar, “Handling Loss and Going Forward,” for teens and parents.
Law Principal Janet Garagliano, who spearheaded the event, said in light of the recent deaths of the five teenagers in car accidents, including three students from Law, (one of the three students had transferred to Eli Whitney Technical School in Hamden) many parents are unsure about how to move through the grieving process with their teenaged children.
She said some parents, for instance, are not sure what to look for in their child’s behavior that may trigger the need for additional help. Garagliano said the forum will benefit anyone who may not know how to open a discussion with their children on the issue, or how to handle their own grief as a parent.
The second event, at 7 p.m. April 9 at Amity High School in Woodbridge, will include Amity Superintendent of Schools John Brady and Milford Superintendent of Schools Harvey B. Polansky presiding over a legislative forum on teen driving.
State Sen. Joseph Crisco, D-Woodbridge, pitched the idea as an effort to get information to the public concerning how the General Assembly plans to make changes to help make teen driving safer. Also, there will be a presentation on what other states are doing on the issue.
Brady said it made sense to reach out to Polansky and for the school leaders to come together on teen driving.
“We’ve lost five kids in the last month and...let’s us try and do something about this,” Brady said. “We’re allies in the struggle to see what we can do about this.”
All of the state lawmakers from Milford and the Amity towns have been invited to attend, as were residents of Milford and Amity.
The March 26 Milford forum will feature presentations by Cynthia Dodd and Cathy Fisher, grief clinicians from BRIDGES, A Community Support System of Milford. Milford school administrators will attend and the forum also will feature a question and answer period.
Milford schools spokeswoman Kathryn Bonetti said Garagliano has received numerous calls from concerned parents who are still struggling with the grief of losing three students from Law. She said the grief has trickled down to the middle schools students there have siblings are in the high schools.
“It’s the shock of losing someone in their own age bracket. It has certainly resonated throughout the district,” Bonetti said. “I’ve seen it in my own children included. Kids think they are invincible and when they lose someone in their own peer group they are in shock.” Bonetti also said her children are asking questions about how the accidents occurred and what the laws are on teen driving.
Brady said he believes the key step towards making teens safer drivers is to increase the amount of time they are required to spend in driving school.
Jonathan Dolceacqua, 18, was the back-seat passenger in 17-year-old Shawn Foley’s 1990 Nissan 240SX Feb. 11 when Foley lost control of his car, sending it skidding into a utility pole on the ring road that loops around the Westfield Connecticut Post mall. Foley and Dolceacqua were killed.
Front-seat passenger Michael Vicino, 16, remained in critical condition at Bridgeport Hospital for 33 days after the accident until he succumbed to his injuries last Friday. Police said speed was a factor, and they are investigating witness reports that Foley may have been racing with another car.
Two Amity students Salvatore Semmonella, 17, and Francesk Zefi, 18, were killed when the car Zefi was driving on the Wilbur Cross Parkway veered off the road earlier this month.
Recently, Gov. M. Jodi Rell highlighted several proposed changes in the teen driving laws including more training for teen drivers. Currently, the law mandates 20 hours before a teen can drive alone, and a task force created to study the issue is recommending an increase to 50 hours.
Also Rell wants the curfew for teen drivers to decrease from midnight to 11 p.m.
DMV Commissioner Robert Ward has said a major recommendation is to double the passenger restrictions for teen drivers. Currently, for the first three months after teens earn their license they can only ride with their parents, then for the next three months teens can only ride with parents and/or siblings. Ward said the proposal is to double both of those restrictions.