September 2, 2014

Medina
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Police, businesses team up for teen driver safety

"Take Control," a teen driver safety course taught by police officers, will last three hours, with about 45 minutes behind the wheel, and will teach teens to deal with obstacles in the road and skidding tires. To register, call the Montville Township Police at (330) 661-0122. (GAZETTE PHOTO BY NICK GLUNT)

When 16-year-old Erin Ehrbar left for school the morning of April 28, 2010, her parents never thought to worry.

“You don’t think if they’re driving a quarter-mile to school that anything bad could happen to them,” said Erin’s stepfather, Chris DePiero.

A teenager’s speeding car broadsided Erin’s vehicle as she pulled out of the family’s driveway on Wilbur Road in Granger Township. Erin was pronounced dead at the scene, and her 13-year-old brother Andrew, who was her passenger, died the next morning.

The Ohio Highway Patrol found both drivers at fault: Erin Ehrbar failed to yield the right of way and the other driver, 17-year-old Jonathan Slifka, was speeding.

Medina County Juvenile Judge John J. Lohn sentenced Slifka to three days in jail and suspended his driver’s license until he is 21.

Montville Township Police Chief Terry Grice said this sort of tragedy is exactly what he hopes to avoid with a series of free weekend classes geared toward teenage drivers.

“As police, we’ve gotten used to letting families know that loved ones have died,” Grice said. “It’s always hard, but it’s harder when you’re talking about kids.

“The goal behind this is to reduce that — even if it’s by one.”

The classes, dubbed “Take Control,” will be held the third Saturday of every month starting June 15 at the Westfield Insurance parking lot, 1 Park Circle. The classes will last three hours and are taught by police officers.

The head instructor, Montville Sgt. Chris LaFond, said students should expect to spend about 45 minutes behind the wheel.

"Take Control," a teen driver safety course starting June 15, is sponsored by several local organizations and businesses. Pictured from left, sponsor Westfield Insurance spokespeople Gretchen Long and Jani Groza; Montville Township Police Chief Terry Grice; sponsors Laura Ehrbar-DePiero and Chris Ehrbar of the Ehrbar Angels Foundation; and instructor Montville Police Sgt. Chris LaFond. (GAZETTE PHOTO BY NICK GLUNT)

Classes will focus on dealing with panic situations, like avoiding obstacles and handling a skidding vehicle.

As part of the class, students will drive a “skid car,” equipped with a Diablo Drift Lift device that will give the teens hands-on experience in dealing with sudden loss of traction — but at safe speeds.

LaFond said the specially equipped cars skid at speeds as low as 10 or 15 mph because the $9,000 device can lift a car off the ground by millimeters so the tires produce less friction with the road.

“A lot of young drivers don’t have the skills to deal with extreme situations like these,” LaFond said. “These classes create a real, safe environment to help them learn.”

No taxpayer money was used to fund the classes. Instead, they were sponsored by Westfield Insurance, MStar Foundation, Bill Doraty Kia and the Ehrbar Angels Foundation — which was formed by Erin and Andrew’s mother, Laura Ehrbar DePiero, and Chris DePiero.

“After Erin and Andrew died, we felt something good should come from it,” Ehrbar DePiero said.

She said she and her husband took the class and learned something from it.

Each class has room for 12 students, and the teens only attend one session. To register, call Montville police at (330) 661-0122.

Contact reporter Nick Glunt at (330) 721-4048 or nglunt@medina-gazette.com.