With two communities still reeling from fatal car crashes over the weekend, the Ohio State Highway Patrol says laws are in place to prevent such injuries.
Three people were killed Sunday in Columbiana County, including an 11-year-old girl who police said was thrown from the rear cargo area of an SUV carrying two adults and seven children. Only three of the children were properly restrained, according to the patrol.
Addisyn Benzel, 11, was thrown from the cargo area of the vehicle after a driver of a car heading the other direction crossed over the center line on a roadway in Columbiana County, about 40 miles south of Youngstown, patrol Staff Lt. Anne Ralston said.
The driver of the SUV, 39-year-old James Nign, and his 27-year-old wife, Meghann Nign, were also killed in the accident around 11 a.m. Sunday. Six other children in the Chevy Equinox, including a 6-year-old sitting on Meghann Nign's lap, were taken to area hospitals, police said, but their conditions were unknown Monday night.
The Patrol said that none of the three who were killed were wearing seat belts. Three children, ages 9 months to 4 years old, were in child safety seats, but two other 11-year-old victims were not wearing seat belts.
"Without question, (wearing a seat belt) does cut down on the severity of the injuries ... it's been proven time and time again," said Sgt. Jeff Klem of the Warren post in Southington, who has been a trooper for 30 years.
"Even in just my personal experience, seeing the thousands of crashes that I have, seat belts definitely reduce the severity of the injuries and even death," he said.
In another fatal crash in West Virginia late Saturday, three high school students died in a head-on collision with a fire truck in Hancock County.
The accident resulted in the deaths of Kristyn Butcher, 16, of Newell, W.Va.; Kaylin Rice, 16, of Chester, W.Va.; and John Emmett Snow III, 16, of New Cumberland, W.Va.
The crash occurred at 9 p.m. Saturday near the Route 8 entrance to Tomlinson Run State Park, shortly after the New Manchester Volunteer Fire Department had received a report of a chimney fire, the sheriff's department said.
Butcher and Rice were pronounced dead at the scene, while Snow succumbed to his injuries after being transported to East Liverpool City Hospital.
Klem said the law restricting the number of non-family teen passengers for teen drivers younger than 17 is not new. The Graduated Driver Licensing Law, which went into effect on April 6, 2007, states that drivers younger than 17 are limited to only one teen passenger who is not a family member. They also are not permitted to drive between midnight and 6 a.m. without a parent, with the exception of work-related transportation.
For those age 17 and older, driving is not permitted between 1 and 5 a.m. without a parent, aside from the work exception.
Klem said the law is there to protect teens and their passengers as well as other drivers by limiting distractions.
"It cuts down on distracted driving; it helps the youthful driver focus more on the surroundings and also the operation of the vehicle," he said.
The patrol also utilizes Teen Driving Myths posters to educate youths about safe driving.
One common myth, according to patrol, is that it is safer to drive at night when there is less traffic.
"Fact: Four of every 10 deaths of teens in motor vehicles occur between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m.," a poster states, citing information from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Another myth suggests teens are safer with more passengers because the others can help watch for traffic.
The fact, according to a poster: "Crash risk for teenage drivers increases significantly with one, two, or three or more passengers. With three or more passengers, a teen's fatal crash risk is about three times higher than when a beginner is driving alone."
Also, "The presence of passengers is a major factor in the teenage death toll. About two-thirds of all teen crash deaths that involve 16-year-old drivers occur when other teens are passengers."
One poster dispels the myth that traffic crashes are random incidents that can't be prevented.
"Specific behaviors are associated with teen traffic crashes. Inexperience combined with speed, alcohol and / or drug use, not wearing safety belts, distracted driving (cell phone use, loud music, other teen passengers, etc.), drowsy driving or night time driving contribute to the high percentage of teen crashes and preventable deaths," according to the patrol.
The division also stands by its more well-known fact that most crash deaths occur at speeds less than 40 miles per hour and within 25 miles of home.
The deadliest crash in Trumbull County's history occurred last March, when six Warren teens died in a crash in Howland Township after the vehicle crossed left of center and hit a guardrail, sending the vehicle airborne before it landed on its roof in the small, five-foot deep pond just north of Burton Street S.E.
All of the teens who died drowned in the small pond, according to the Trumbull County coroner. No one was wearing seat belts.
But despite last year's tragedy, traffic deaths around the state were at record lows last year, according to preliminary data released Jan. 1 by the patrol
The patrol encourages everyone, whether they be passenger or driver, young or old, to "Always buckle up."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.