Unique program in Medina County helps teen drivers take control with use of skid car

Free defensive driving course offered once a month

MONTVILLE TOWNSHIP, Ohio - Teen drivers can squeal some tires and spin a car in a parking lot with the approval of police agencies in Medina County.

The training called "Take Control" is believed to be a first-of-its-kind Ohio program, offered for free through a collaboration of law enforcement, corporate sponsors and local foundations.

The Montville Police Departments purchased a $9,000 skid apparatus, known as the Diablo Drift Lift, which allows the rear wheels of a car to be adjusted off the ground and creates a skidding situation at speeds up to 12 miles per hour.

"The most common cause of accidents on the road is inexperience," said Montville Police Chief Terry Grice. "The skid car teaches teens how to deal with conditions like wet or icy roads that can make driving hazardous."

Montville Police Sergeant Chris LaFond instructs teens drivers and said a pilot program with 10 drivers proved to be an eye-opening experience.

"When you go into a skid, what you want the student to do is to come off whatever pedal they're on, whether it's the brake pedal or the gas pedal," LaFond said. "We teach them to do what we call open the steering, which means that if they're turned into a right-hand turn and they start to skid, they need to open the wheel back to the left and let the car regain control."

The three-hour class teaches collision avoidance, emergency braking, skid recovery and more. It's an expansion of the Medina County Juvenile Diversion Program, which has been offered since 2008 to teens who received their first traffic citation, in lieu of a traditional fine.

The training is very important to Laura Ehrbar-DePiero, who lost two of her children in a tragic accident in April of 2010.

A 17-year-old driver, who was speeding, slammed into a car driven by 16-year-old Erin Ehrbar, as she pulled out of her driveway on Wilbur Road on her way to school.

Erin, who was a vibrant soccer player and volunteered at a nursing home, died at the scene. Her 13-year-old brother, Andrew, who loved Cleveland sports teams and animals, died at a hospital.

Erin and the other driver, Jonathan Slifka, were both students at Highland High School. Slifka was sentenced to three days in jail.

"It hurts. It hurts everyday, but being able to put and funnel your energy into something so positive really is what helps us cope everyday," Laura Ehrbar-DePiero said.

After the deaths of the two children, Ehrbar-DePiero launched the Ehrbar Angels Foundation, which provides scholarships to Highland High School senior students, sponsors 8th grade students on Washington DC trips, and supports education for teen drivers.

The Foundation gave $20,000 towards Take Control, which will help the program run for free for three to four years.

"It certainly, hopefully could help prevent someone else in this similar type of situation to have the same outcome as we had," Ehrbar-DePiero said.

Bill Doraty Kia donated vehicles for the program. The MStar Foundation and Westfield Insurance also provided funding.

"As an insurance company, Westfield can repair cars, but we can't bring back those who have lost their lives in a crash," said Ed Largent, Westfield Insurance president. "That is why Westfield is pleased to be involved in this partnership, which may prevent teen crashes in the first place."

In addition, the newly-formed Brunswick Blue Pride group will promote the training throughout Medina County.

Last June, four Brunswick students were killed after their speeding car vaulted over train tracks and crashed in Boston Township.

It's that type of tragedy that Sgt. LaFond hopes to avoid through his training.

"If we can teach them some additional skills, hopefully we can combat some of these tragic accidents that we've seen," he said.

Medina County residents between the ages of 16-19 who have their full driver's license can contact the Montville Township Police Department at 330-661-0122 to sign up for the training. It will be held on the third Saturday of each month beginning on June 15 at Westfield Insurance at 1 Park Circle, Westfield Center, OH, 44251.

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