SULLIVAN COUNTY, Ind. (WTWO/WAWV) — December 28, 2018 was just another day at work for Brian Jewell, until his phone rang with a message from his wife.
“It was pretty frantic, she was saying Tyson had been in an accident,” Jewell recalled. “About 10 minutes later, my phone rings again and it’s my son, and he said, ‘Dad, he’s gone’.”
Jewell’s nephew Tyson Boyll and two other North Central High School students were killed in the crash in rural Sullivan County; three students lost in one wreck.
“We’d lost others in car accidents and various reasons, but never three at the same time,” North Central Principal Nancy Liston said. “I didn’t think we would ever survive that.”
The community did survive, thanks to an effort led by Liston, who was in charge of Student Council at the time, to create memorial benches for the three boys out of bottle caps. The tribute benches, along with other outreach efforts, helped to keep the community together after the tragedy.
The story behind NCHS’ memorial benches:
Then, in October of this year, the school lost another student in a car crash. In between these two crashes, several other local high schools have dealt with students lost on the roadways.
“When I hear about an accident, the first thought that goes through my mind is how old were they or how young were they?” Jewell said. “If it is a young one, emotions start to hit me because we kind of know what that family is getting ready to go through.”
Data from Indiana State Police shows an increase in the number of fatal crashes involving teen drivers between 2016 and 2019 within the Putnamville District, which covers the following counties: Clay, Parke, Putnam, Sullivan, Vermillion and Vigo.
Fatal crashes involving teen drivers ages 15-19 (ISP #53 District):
|2016||2 fatal crashes, 3 total fatalities|
|2017||3 fatal crashes, 3 total fatalities|
|2018||4 fatal crashes, 4 total fatalities|
|2019||5 fatal crashes, 5 total fatalities|
Sergeant Matt Ames with ISP said there are several factors that can lead to these crashes including inexperience, road conditions, weather or distracted driving. Working the scene of a fatal wreck involving teenagers is something that often greatly affects law enforcement officers.
“For the officer who’s working that accident to have to go to the family and knock on that door and have the family come to the door and they know that we’re there and we’re not there to relay good information to them, and having to go inside, sit down with them, explain to them what happened, it’s very heart-wrenching for us as a police officers,” Ames said. “It’s something that lives with our officers, you know, maybe for their entire career.”
Ames suggested parents put an agreement or contract in place with their teenaged children regarding driving expectations.
“A contract with the parents or the guardians of the child would be good,” Ames said. “Talking to them about speeding, making sure that they’re not driving while distracted, making sure that they’re in before curfew. And if they don’t abide by these rules, that they definitely have consequences; you take the car away from them or you make them be home sooner.”
Ames said a recent law passed in Indiana that bans use of handheld devices and increases the consequences for distracted driving has helped with enforcing good driving habits.
“There’s several points that will go on your driver’s license and if you get three moving violations within a one-year period then your license will be suspended by the BMV,” Ames explained.
The addition of cameras and message boards on highways by the Indiana Department of Transportation aim to help with alerting all drivers, including new teen drivers, of conditions on their route.
“We could be telling them of a crash up ahead, what they need to be doing or what lane they need to be in” INDOT Communications Director Debbie Calder explained. “We could be informing them of bad weather conditions coming in. There’s a lot of different information that we can provide on those.”
Information and awareness that can help save lives and spare more families and communities from heartache.
“Are we ever going to forget them? Never,” Liston said. “That’s one thing, that’s a promise I made to their families that we will never forget them. That’s why we have the memorials, kids can go sit on the benches and remember them.”
“Tyson Tuesdays” help keep teen’s memory alive:
Jewell has found his own meaningful ways to remember his beloved nephew, including a weekly series on Facebook called “Tyson Tuesdays” where photos of Tyson are posted and memories are shared. While this helps Jewell and his loved ones cope, he said the grieving process will never fully end.
“It takes a lot out of you,” Jewell shared. “You’re in shock for months. There are times almost three years later that you’re still in shock.”