April 23, 2014

Medina
Cloudy
36°F

Parents of teen killed in 2006 accident campaign to get license plate for young drivers

MEDINA — A Medina family that suffered the loss of a daughter has found a way to raise funds for safe teen driving programs.

With help from state Rep. Bill Batchelder, R-Medina, Ohio residents will be able to choose a Michelle’s Leading Star Foundation license plate with $10 benefiting teen driver’s edu­cation.

From left: Debbie Sanderbeck and Ray Sanderbeck stand with former driving students Kristin Leuchtag, Dan Nelson and Breana Learn around a driving simulator used in the MStar Teen Drivers Education Curriculum. (GAZETTE PHOTO BY KAITLIN BUSHINSKI)

From left: Debbie Sanderbeck and Ray Sanderbeck stand with former driving students Kristin Leuchtag, Dan Nelson and Breana Learn around a driving simulator used in the MStar Teen Drivers Education Curriculum. (GAZETTE PHOTO BY KAITLIN BUSHINSKI)

The foundation is named after Michelle Lee Sanderbeck, Ray and Debbie Sanderbeck’s 15-year-old daughter who died in a 2006 accident while traveling in a car driven by a teenager.

Since then, Ray Sanderbeck has crusaded to educate teens about safe driving, and started the MStar Teen Drivers Education Curriculum, which was incorporated into the health pro­gram at Medina High School. Through the curriculum, pre-drivers (students in ninth and 10th grade) use high-­tech driving simulators to learn safe driving techniques.

Proceeds from the license plates, which carry the foundation’s star­-shaped logo, will pay for newer ver­sions of the simulators that will include LCD screens that allow students to practice driving in reverse and have real-life car components. The simulators cost around $10,000 each.

Eventually, Sanderbeck said he hopes to expand the program into schools around the county and the state.

“I’m very excited, and obvi­ously very emotional,” Sander­beck said Thursday, “because as we take a step, we take a step forward with our daughter, Michelle. “We’re trying to make a difference.”

Kristin Leuchtag, 17, a gradu­ate of the MStar Teen Drivers Education Curriculum at Med­ina High, said she learned a lot from the program.

“When I was first on this (sim­ulator), I had never driven before. I thought, ‘Oh, I’ll know that, I’ll know that,’ ” Leuchtag said. “But then I went into the wrong lane” on the simulator.

Several graduates of the course hope to start a club called the MStar Teen Driver’s Group.

“Basically, our goal is to save lives,” Breana Learn, another graduate of the course, said of the club.

Batchelder, who sponsored House Bill 133 to create the license plate, said he spoke with many of Michelle’s classmates about her life in the course of the yearlong legislative process to get the bill passed.

“She was a very special per­son,” Batchelder said. “This will be a tribute to her memory.”

Gov. Ted Strickland signed H.B. 133 in June.

“We have young people who get a driver’s license who don’t understand that it’s a vehicle that can cause death,” Batchelder said. “There are ten­dencies to over-correct and they go left of center and sometimes there are head-on crashes.”

He said the license plate must receive 500 orders for it to become available. He said he hopes to have driving safety organizations publish informa­tion about the plate in their publications to advertise it and many people from Medina likely will be interested in it.

“I think time will tell,” Batchelder said of the plate’s success.

Contact Kaitlin Bushinski at (330) 721-4050 or kbushinski@medina-gazette.com.