Teens Riding in Truck Bed Killed in Crash

By Joe Holley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 5, 2007; 9:06 AM

A rural tradition as old as pickup trucks themselves claimed the lives of two southwestern Virginia teenagers over the Labor Day weekend. They were illegally riding in the bed of the truck when it crashed near Hillsville. A third passenger also died.

Sgt. Michael T. Conroy of the Virginia State Police said that the third victim, 17-year-old Brianna Peak of Dugspur, Va., was in the truck's cab but not wearing a seat belt and was ejected in the crash on Sunday in Carroll County, about two miles north of the North Carolina border. Six girls were riding in the truck.

"We think speed contributed," Conroy said. "They were coming out of a curve."

Conroy said Allison Rebecca Turman of Willis, Va., and Ashley Leonard of Cana, Va., both 14, were riding in the bed of the 2000 Dodge Dakota when it overturned and caught fire. The three other teenagers in the truck were injured.

Conroy said that the 15-year-old driver was unlicensed and that police have not decided whether to file charges. A Roanoke TV station identified her as Adrian Leonard, Ashley Leonard's sister.

Thirty-four states restrict passengers in the beds of pickups, with most of the restrictions applying to children. According to figures compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures, most of the injuries and deaths occurring in pickup truck crashes -- more than 200 per year -- involve a passenger, riding unrestrained in the cargo area, being thrown out of the truck during a rollover crash.

In Virginia, the law prohibiting passengers in the truck bed does not apply to anyone older than 16, agricultural workers moving from field to field or people riding in parades.

Maryland's law is similar, with an exception for anyone over 16, or anyone over 15 if the truck is traveling 25 mph or less. Maryland specifies that the law does not apply to pickup trucks with covered cargo areas.

West Virginia has no law.

"The more rural a state is, the more exemptions there are," said Melissa Savage, a researcher with the National Conference on State Legislatures.

The Virginia law passed after years of lobbying by public safety advocates and relatives of young people killed in pickup mishaps. Then-Gov. George Allen (R) vetoed bills that would have required seat belts in truck beds. He and other opponents of the legislation argued that it would burden farmers and families in rural areas, whose only mode of transport is often a pickup.

"You hate that anyone would lose a kid to this type of thing, but I just don't think we should be telling anybody what they can or cannot do," Del. Jackie T. Stump (D-Buchanan County) told The Washington Post in 1996.

The Virginia legislation passed four years later, although "it's not uncommon" for rural teenagers to ignore it, Conroy said.

In Carroll County yesterday, family members assembled at the accident scene to erect a flower-covered cross as a memorial to Ashley Leonard.

"It was all my fault, because I should not have been driving like that," her sister Adrian told WSLS-TV. "It hurts so bad to see her laying on the side of the road not alive."

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