The teen driver overturned his pickup shortly after midnight. His passenger died.
Richard Prosser, 18 at the time, is now serving an 11-year prison sentence after pleading no contest to voluntary manslaughter and DUI causing bodily injury in the crash that killed 19-year-old Krystul Hazelwood.
Upon her death on June 10, 2016, Hazelwood became one of the thousands of U.S. teens killed in motor vehicle crashes each year.
In fact, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In 2015, a total of 2,333 teens ages 16 to 19 were killed in motor vehicle crashes, according to figures last updated in October on the CDC’s website. The numbers also show that young people ages 15 to 19 represented only 7 percent of the U.S. population but accounted for 11 percent — $10 billion — of the total costs of motor vehicle injuries.
Immaturity and inexperience behind the wheel can explain why a lot of these crashes happen, said California Highway Patrol Officer Robert Rodriguez, Bakersfield CHP’s spokesman.
“A lot of kids don’t take it seriously and realize how deadly it can be if you don’t respect the vehicle you are driving,” he said.
That inexperience is why, during a teen’s first year of driving, they’re not permitted to transport anyone under 20, Rodriguez said.
“When you have several teens in the car together, they could instigate something or maybe pressure the driver into doing something they don’t want to do or are uncomfortable doing. …They don’t want to look bad in front of their peers and so they do something risky,” he said.
According to the CHP, a teen driver is twice as likely to be killed in a crash while carrying just one passenger. Carrying two passengers increases the risk of crashing by 158 percent, and three passengers increases the risk by 207 percent.
The No. 1 distraction while driving is cellphones, Rodriguez said. He said teens, as well as all motorists, need to learn to put cellphones down and leave them alone until they’re parked or out of the vehicles.
Texting while driving is a “huge” issue, Rodriguez said. He stressed anyone under 18 is not allowed to use any cellphone technology, including hands-free devices, while driving.
“I’m not sure if parents realize that, but it’s part of the law because of the dangers,” he said.
Bakersfield police Sgt. spokesman Ryan Kroeker said the department tries to educate teens and the public at large of the dangers of distracted driving, and enforces traffic laws when they see them being broken. Sometimes getting pulled over can convince someone to stop illegal behavior.
“You get a fine, that hurts,” Kroeker said.
As with Rodriguez, Kroeker said the most common distracted driving violation they come across is cellphone usage, whether the driver is talking or texting.
Both agencies offer teen-oriented programs to illustrate the dangers of distracted driving or other harmful behavior while behind the wheel, including drinking and driving.
The CHP holds a number of Start Smart classes at CHP offices in different areas of the county each year. The two-hour, free program is aimed at newly licensed or soon to be licensed drivers ages 15 to 19.
At those classes, CHP officers talk about techniques to avoid collisions, along with the common dangers such as excessive speed, DUI, and distracted driving.
The BPD presents “A Life Interrupted” at local schools and community programs. The multimedia presentation features crash scene photos, 911 recordings and a mobile trailer with a vehicle wrecked in a drunken driving crash.
Kroeker said the presentation tends to made a strong impact on teens.
“When you see it in person, see where someone lost their life, it brings it down to earth a bit, makes it more realistic,” he said.