Teen Driver Crashes Car, Killing Passenger

By Christian Davenport
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 9, 2009

The bend in Old Bridge Road comes suddenly after a hill, and in the rain, near sunset, the young driver lost control of her car, Prince William County police said yesterday.

The 16-year-old, whom police did not identify, drove the Chevrolet Aveo through the median and into oncoming traffic, where she collided with a Lincoln Aviator about 4:30 p.m. Wednesday near Forest Hill Road in Lake Ridge, police said.

Her passenger, Shelby B. Nicholson, a 16-year-old junior at Woodbridge Senior High School, was pronounced dead at the scene. Nicholson, of Woodbridge, was not wearing a seat belt, said Officer Erika Hernandez, a police spokeswoman.

The driver of the Chevrolet was taken to a hospital with life-threatening injuries. The driver of the Lincoln, a 22-year-old from Woodbridge, and her 51-year-old passenger were treated and released. Alcohol was not a factor, police said, and no charges have been filed.

The crash, which sent waves of grief through the Woodbridge High community, was the latest in a string of deadly accidents in the region involving young drivers.

In October, Ryan Didone, a 15-year-old Montgomery County youth who was riding in a Volvo being driven by a 17-year old, was killed after the car crashed into a tree and caught fire.

And in November, two women were killed after a 17-year-old drove the wrong way on Interstate 66 in Arlington County and collided head-on with another vehicle, police said.

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for those ages 15 to 20, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Congress commissioned a study by the NHTSA, which reported that although drivers ages 15 to 20 make up just 6.3 percent of licensed motorists, they are involved in almost 13 percent of fatal crashes.

Nationwide in 2006, almost 3,500 teen drivers died and 272,000 were injured. Legislatures in Maryland and Virginia have taken steps designed to curb the death toll, such as imposing curfews for young drivers and limiting the number of passengers.

Wednesday's crash occurred a few hours after school had let out. It was not clear where Nicholson and the driver were heading or how fast they were going. Hernandez said the teen driver had a valid license, but other details of the crash were unavailable as police continued to investigate yesterday.

At Woodbridge High, Nicholson was known as a sociable and well-liked student who worked on the yearbook and was described by her principal as a "very nice young lady" who was "respected by our staff here."

She worked during second period as an aide in the front office, helping the administrators and secretaries, Principal David Huckestein said.

She was a Pittsburgh Steelers fan who occasionally wore the team's black and gold jersey to school and was delighted that her team had once again made it to the playoffs, said Huckestein, a Pittsburgh native.

The school's counselors were busy helping students yesterday, he said, adding that the sudden loss of a friend and fellow student can sometimes take days, if not weeks, to sink in.

"It'll be some days that this will linger on," Huckestein said. "When something traumatic like this happens, it's tough on everybody."

Nicholson's parents were making funeral arrangements for their daughter yesterday, an aunt said.

Staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.

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