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Event aims to help prevent future traffic tragedies

SPOKESMAN PHOTO: JAKE BARTMAN - Wilsonville High School junior Casey Roberts was handcuffed at the Drive with a Cop event by deputy sheriff Bryon O'Neil for failing a mock field sobriety test.Flashing lights, squealing tires and more than one failed field sobriety test were all found just off Boeckman Road in Wilsonville Oct. 24.

But if you listened closely, you might have heard more than a little laughter as well.

The occasion was the first “Drive with a Cop” event, which saw Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office officials teach teens how to drive more safely.

Held at Grace Chapel, Drive with a Cop was inspired in part by the memory of several Clackamas County teens who lost their lives on the road in recent months.

One such youth was Maddi Higgins, 17, a West Linn High School junior who was killed in an accident on Pete’s Mountain Road in West Linn in June 2014. Higgins was the passenger in a vehicle driven by 18-year-old West Linn High School graduate Hayden Soyk.

“This didn’t just affect our family. It affected our whole community,” said Carrie Higgins, Maddi Higgins’ mother.

After Maddi’s death, Carrie Higgins was contacted by Oregon Impact, an organization that seeks to eliminate distracted and impaired driving. The two partnered to start the City of Angel5 campaign, with seeks to promote driver safety among teens.

Originally intended as a reference to Maddi Higgins’ No. 5 West Linn High School softball team jersey number, Angel5 came to pay tribute to five young lives lost in auto accidents in Clackamas County within the last year: 18-year-old Oregon City High School student Madison West was killed Feb. 20 of this year, and West Linn High School students Cooper Hill, 17, and Antonio Caballero, 16, were killed Feb. 21.

The Angel5 campaign saw, among other things, the creation of baseball jerseys emblazoned with the number five and the word “Angels.” One such jersey found its way to Clackamas County Sheriff Craig Roberts’ daughter, a student at Wilsonville High School.

“My daughter actually came home wearing an Angel5 shirt. And I said, ‘Hey, what’s that all about?’” Roberts said. “So I said, ‘Oh, I think I’ll reach out to Carrie... and see if we could partner with her on doing something on teen safe driving.’”

Carrie Higgins, Oregon Impact, Wilsonville’s World of Speed Museum and the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office teamed up to stage the Drive with a Cop event. Its primary goal, Higgins said, was to raise awareness of the risk distractions pose to safe driving.

“We know that speed was a factor in the accident,” Higgins said. “But I also know that passengers are the leading distraction, and the No. 1 leading distraction and risk factor in teen driving.

“Maddi was a passenger. I try and look at everything in life - what could I have done? What could I have said? How could I have educated my own kids differently? And I didn’t have conversations about being a safe passenger,” she said.

Roberts had similar aspirations for the event. “What I hope first and foremost is that they’ll recognize that a motor vehicle is a machine that very easily can take the lives of others, unless you take it extremely seriously,” he said. “Second of all, that distracted driving and speed are contributing factors to injuries not only to themselves, but to others.”

It was for that reason that in addition to allowing teens the chance to ride along through a safe driving course in a police vehicle, the event reversed roles, having teens drive their own vehicles while a deputy rode along in the passenger seat.

The course involved exercises in weaving between cones, reversing around them and coming to a sudden stop. Participants would first go through the course with guidance from the deputy, before trying to navigate the same challenges while the deputy attempted to be as distracting as possible — screaming, playing loud music and attempting to take cell phone selfies.

“It’s absolutely awesome,” said Aaron Jesse, a junior at Clackamas Letter Academy, of the driving course. Jesse said he was interested in coming to the event because he was in a car accident a month ago, but also because he lost two close friends to two separate car accidents last year.

Jesse said that in addition to learning the difficulty of driving backward in his family’s Ford, he learned that “Driving requires all of your attention. If you even take the smallest increment of time, just looking at a cool car or a person on the sidewalk doing something cool, you can end up in a life-threatening situation.

“You’ve just got to learn not only from your own mistakes, but from experience,” he added.

Event attendees also had the chance to try to pass a field sobriety test — walking a line with one foot in front of the other, turning, and walking back to the line’s beginning — while wearing goggles that simulate intoxication.

The exercise was facilitated by Bryon O’Neil, a traffic crash reconstructionist and deputy sheriff. O’Neil related that while a blood-alcohol content of .08 is the minimum required to have one’s license suspended after an incident, a driver can be charged with DUI even with a lower BAC.

“If I can show impairment for someone who’s under a .08 — say, a .06, a .05, whatever — as long as I’m able to show they’re impaired... they can get charged with a misdemeanor crime of DUI,” O’Neil said. “A lot of people don’t realize that.”

Attendees enjoyed navigating the field test, where plenty of laughter and theatrics were displayed — although most fared so poorly that they were summarily handcuffed by O’Neil afterward.

But for all its fun, the field sobriety exercise, like the driving course, had a very serious purpose. Higgins said that she hopes that fun events like these might help to prevent further tragedies like the ones seen in Clackamas County in months past.

“We all know about speeding; we all know about seat belts,” Higgins said. “To me, it’s passenger safety. It’s just moving forward... and looking at the future, and keeping these kids alive.”

Contact Jake Bartman at 503-636-1281 ext. 113 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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