Another Teen Mourned After Crash on Back Road

From left: Ryan Didone, 15, who died in the crash, Brittany Jones, 16, Kurstin Newport, 15, Christopher Nicholson, 17, and Zachary Kimble, 17.
From left: Ryan Didone, 15, who died in the crash, Brittany Jones, 16, Kurstin Newport, 15, Christopher Nicholson, 17, and Zachary Kimble, 17. (Courtesy of Montgomery County Public Schools)
By Dan Morse and Daniel de Vise
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, October 22, 2008

As a Montgomery County police captain, Thomas C. Didone has spent countless hours counseling teenagers to drive safely. Last night, he stood before more than 1,000 people gathered on the Damascus High School football field to mourn his 15-year-old son, the latest youth killed in a car driven by a teenager on northern Montgomery's winding roads.

Ryan Didone was riding in a blue Volvo station wagon filled with teenagers, part of a group headed to Burger King after the weekly meeting of a religious youth group Monday night. Suddenly, the wagon veered off Hawkins Creamery Road, struck a tree and burst into flames. Ryan was killed, and four others were injured, one critically.

Capt. Didone called the circumstances the kind of "deadly combination" that he often warns students about: an inexperienced driver, a country road, several students in the car. He said his son had apparently not worn a seat belt, although he usually did. Ryan's mother is a driver's education teacher.

"It only takes a second, a split second, and life is changed," Didone said before addressing the crowd attending the Damascus vigil. "I want all the parents to hug their kids. Today, they came home safe, but you can't assume that tomorrow they will, unless you continue to talk to them."

The accident came despite a series of restrictions that the Maryland General Assembly has enacted in recent years to keep the youngest drivers from carrying passengers, talking on cellphones or driving late at night. Police said they do not yet know whether Zachary Kimble, 17, the Volvo's driver, had violated any of those laws. Alcohol was not a factor, authorities said.

Kimble's mother said he lost control of the vehicle on the curvy road after steering too far to the right to avoid an oncoming vehicle.

"He's a newer driver," Sheri Kimble said. "He just miscalculated."

She said her son, a Damascus senior, broke his wrist in the accident. One passenger, Damascus sophomore Brittany Jones, 16, remained in critical condition yesterday at Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore, police and classmates said. Two others -- senior Christopher Nicholson, 17, and sophomore Kurstin Newport, 15 -- suffered less serious injuries. Of the five, only Nicholson and Kimble wore seat belts, police said.

At last night's vigil, students huddled on the football field bleachers in the evening chill, crying and leaning on each other. Adults also wept.

"Ryan was a good kid," Capt. Didone said. "These are good kids. Bad things sometimes happen to good kids. . . . Make sure you tell your kids you love them -- every day, every night."

Didone commands the police district in and around Damascus and works closely with the Sean Mullsteff Teen Driving Foundation, a community group that aims to stem fatal accidents.

Calling to mind the idea that it takes a village to raise a child, Didone told the crowd "that's what we have" in Damascus. He praised those in the community "who had an opportunity to touch my son and impart love, wisdom, kindness."

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