Mother delivers traffic safety lesson

Shenandoah County school resource officer deputy Ricky Miller speaks to this group of parents and teenagers on the hazards of distracted driving at Central High School Tuesday evening. Rich Cooley/Daily

WOODSTOCK – Janet Green’s 18-year-old daughter Heather died in a car crash in mid-May, a tragedy that has led her to deliver a graphic, potentially life-saving plea for teen drivers and their parents in Shenandoah County.

Green said she told her daughter repeatedly to wear a seat belt, to ignore cell phone text messages while behind the wheel.

“I lectured her all the time,” Green told an audience at the Central High School cafeteria Tuesday night. “She didn’t listen. She made a mistake and it cost her her life.”

The state police say Heather Marie Smith died at about 6 a.m. May 12. Her car was headed northbound on Va. 42, south of Ridge Hollow Road, when it passed through a left-hand curve, crossed into the southbound lane and ran off the left side of the road.

The car rolled into a ditch, overturned and hit an embankment.

Brandon Trump, 15, of Woodstock listens to Janet Green speak about her daughter that died in a car crash. Rich Cooley/Daily

Smith was partially ejected from the car and died at the scene from her injuries.

She was not wearing a seat belt, despite warnings she had received from her mother. Green said she has heard all the excuses for not wearing a seat belt. She especially remembers the one about seat belts being uncomfortable.

“Let me tell you what uncomfortable is,” Green said. “Walking in and see your child lying on a metal table, her face destroyed because she went through a windshield at 50 mph – that’s uncomfortable.

“There’s nothing uncomfortable about wearing a seat belt. It will save your life.”

Green’s appearance at Central was part of Partners for Safe Teen Driving, a regular program the school system conducts in the fall and spring. The program is made up of a combination of warnings and safety tips from educators and law enforcement officials to young, inexperienced drivers and their parents.

Janet Green speaks to a group of youth and their parents at Central High School about texting and driving. Green's daughter, Heather Marie Smith, was killed in a car crash on May 12. Rich Cooley/Daily

Parents and teens attending the presentations at each of the county’s three high schools are eligible for a $25 discount from the normal $185 charged for behind-the-wheel instruction.

David Hinegardner, the director of middle and secondary schools for Shenandoah County Public Schools, said he couldn’t be certain the program has been effective in saving lives during the seven years he has helped conduct it. Sometimes the school will go years without losing a student or recent graduate to a traffic accident. But deaths like Heather Smith’s can come in quick succession.

“It kind of goes in stages like that,” Hinegardner said. “I really don’t know why.”

Sgt. Rebecca Mauck, of the Shenandoah County Sheriff’s Office, got the idea for having Green deliver part of the presentation when she ran into Green at a store in town after her daughter’s death. Green, who graduated from Central High School with Mauck, offered to deliver a talk somewhere about her daughter’s death and Mauck immediately thought of give her a speaking slot in the Partners for Safe Teen Driving.

“It kind of hits home with kids when they know somebody their own age this happened to,” Mauck said of the fatal accident.

Green said her daughter had received a text message and was replying to it just before her car left the road.

“Your parents are Christmas shopping for you,” Green told the students. “I bought a headstone for my daughter. Put your phones away and put your seat belts on. It will make a difference.”

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com