Parents preach defensive driving after recent fatal car crashes

Three teen deaths spark safe driving concerns in the stateline.
Published: Sep. 26, 2023 at 6:13 PM CDT
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ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) - Several separate car crashes in the space of just a few weeks result in the deaths of multiple teenagers in the region.

Mason Bernabe, a recent Harlem High School Grad, Jacob Togerson, a recent Hononegah High School Grad, and an unnamed teenager from the Roscoe area. All three tragically lost their lives recently. And as temperatures get cooler and the weather gets rougher, law enforcement urges students to be careful on the roads.

“There’s so much in our driving situations that are not under our control. So we should do everything in our power for those things that are under our control,” said Stillman Valley resident Diane Koenig.

Koenig’s mother, grandmother, and step-grandfather were traveling on a rural highway in 1995 when a semi-truck driver ran a stop sign, killing them instantly. Almost 20 years to the day, Diane’s daughter and two of her friends from Stillman Valley High School were involved in another fatal car accident.

“We all started just trying to call them, and not a single one of them were answering their phones. And that’s when I realized that the only reason they wouldn’t be answering their phones is if it was a lot worse than we all had thought,” she said.

Diane’s daughter survived, but Emily Fleming, another senior at the school, died, as well as the driver of the other car.

“The sea of emergency lights when we started driving up to it. I can’t go to a parade even still. All those lights at one time just send me right back to that,” Diane said.

Sheriff Gary Caruana says because teen drivers have less experience, it’s vital they follow their teachers’ advice and don’t drive distracted.

“As parents you need to address that as law enforcement we need to address that. Obviously these are the facts lets deal with the facts and when we deal with the facts we can correct the behavior,” he said.

For Koenig, she hopes no family member goes through a similar tragedy. She urges parents to act responsibly when driving, because kids watch what their parents do. If they see them not obeying the rules of the road, they are more likely to do it as well.

“Sleep is horrible because you have to sleep but in your dreams sometimes they’re alive again and then when you wake up you have to do it all over again,” she told 23 News.

Koenig’s daughter is studying to be a physicians assistant now. Koenig says what her daughter experienced after that crash encouraged her to pay it forward and assist others who might be going through similar tragedies.