SRHS Students Open Up About the Accidents That Changed their Lives
January 22, 2021
“I was confused and kind of worried, I didn’t know if I was gonna die or not and I didn’t know how my parents would feel if I did die.”
This was said by a senior at San Rafael, who’s asked to remain anonymous for this interview. On November 11th, 2020 8 PM, two students seniors find themselves driving in a 2017 Audi S3 across San Pedro Rd. with hopes of arriving at Peacock Gap Park to find some solace from the overwhelming nature of life this year.
However, upon driving around San Pedro Elementary the students quickly found themselves smashing into the curbs in the road, eventually colliding with a pole that would flip their car over multiple times. The accident would leave one student with a mild concussion, while the other would leave the incident with a broken vertebra, damaged lungs, and a sprung wrist. Seeing as this was the first accident that they would be involved with, this event would leave the students in a state of shock for a very long time. “I just think about the accident way more now, because I don’t want it to happen again,” said one of the seniors.
Teen driving has been a point of contention for a very long time within our society. Despite how lucrative a myriad of different issues has been within the last few years, it’s still important to not disregard the gravity of teen driving especially given the fact that drivers between the age of 16-17 have yielded the highest rate of crash involvement.
Within 2020 alone, the fatal crash rate for teens between 16-19 reached nearly three times as high compared to those 20 years and older. It’s quite common to ask, why this is the case. While San Rafael’s student population hasn’t been frequently involved with many immensely catastrophic accidents, there have been some noteworthy accidents within the last few years. An example being the accident between Milo Tomlinson, Bo Lamb, and Gabe Nuer that occurred within the 3rd quarter of 2019 or more recently the aforementioned accident involving two anonymous students.
Regardless of whether or not these accidents are exceptions to the rule, it’s imperative that we become more reflective of this topic and gain insight through whatever means necessary. Within the remainder of this story, we’ve reached out to individuals with an association to a local DMV and someone who previously taught a driver’s education class that has been missing within the San Rafael High School class catalog for an extended period of time
Ziomoy Coyoy, who was a former San Rafael High School student, worked at several DMV locations within Novato for 5 years. During that time Coyoy developed a fundamental understanding of various situations drivers find themselves within. She had much to state on the overarching topic of should younger people be allowed to drive. From her prior experience, she describes this recurring trait of arrogance regarding driving at a young age.
“People who are just interested in a checklist, I need a car, I need to pimp my license plate… Those people won’t have the best focus on safety practices, and won’t be interested in the responsibility of driving”
When approached regarding a question of the underlying cause of accidents, she speaks heavily regarding a level of negligence people seem to undergo upon acquiring or attempting to acquire their licenses. The fact, not enough people seem to be taking the knowledge acquired with enough care or attentiveness and instead repeatedly take the test in hopes of simply acquiring their licenses.
“I’m gonna keep taking it until I actually pass, that kind of mentality is the majority of the cause of people getting into accidents.” She expands on this further by stating that people exhibit behavior apathetic of basic driving procedures, “Looking over your shoulder seems a very whatever kind of thing but a lot of accidents do occur when people don’t look over their shoulder when shifting lanes.”
The topic of technology’s impact on driving was another point Coyoy was very quick to state her perspective on. Describing how utilities such as GPS’ can generally be more beneficial to drivers as a method of aiding engagement on the road rather than becoming lost in more extraneous thoughts. The tone of her voice shifted upon being inquired about if teens are more susceptible to accidents. She was quick to mention the statistical point of teens having a history of being involved with more accidents, but was generally hopefully past that thought. Wishing for this generation to have a potential influence or change on that history. Coyoy would go onto describe a class that previously existed at SR for an extended period of time lead by Mr. Shepard.
Back in the day, Driver’s Education was once a class that could be taken at San Rafael High School. But in the late 2000s, the program was cut from the school curriculum. Mr. Shepard, the Driver’s ED teacher at the time, was there to witness the steady decline of the class. He first got the position after the former Driver’s ED teacher retired. Luckily this position wouldn’t be too out of the ordinary for Mr. Shepard, as his father was the Driver’s ED teacher for over 30 years for the Tam District and taught his son at Drake High School.
Mr. Shepard’s class was held during zero period and was held for around 33 days so students got their 30 hours required of driver’s education. If those students missed enough classes then they would run the risk of failing the class altogether.
“This is the whole thing with driver’s education, the main thing you need to learn is to be responsible.” Shepard continues, “One of the reasons we taught at zero periods is ‘Hey, you have to get up an hour early,’ and if you can get up an hour early and be at school at 7 o’clock 30 days in a row, that shows me you’re responsible.”
Of around the 20 students that would attend Shepard’s class, around 4 would fail because they missed too many days. Mr. Shepard rarely assigned homework, he only had the extra days so people had time to make up work if they only missed a day. Shepard would usually follow the California Driving Manual and its quizzes, and showed movies.
Although back in Mr. Shepherd’s driving class, he remembers quite a different classroom. They used to have a class that projected a screen of a car moving and would sync up to several front dashboards of a car. Then the students would correlate their motions with the screen and be graded. Every time the student made a mistake on screen the car would vibrate, meaning they hit something on the screen. Mr. Shepard’s driving program even included instructors that would have students drive station wagons around campus. However, such programs would soon die around the 80s, but while the driving instructor’s section was scrapped, the driver’s education section stayed.
This would also start to fade by the time Mr. Shepard taught Driver’s ED, as he had to compete with the online driver’s education program. But while the online program costs money, the school program costs nothing for students, so it was still a popular option. In the year 2008 however, San Rafael would face budget cuts following the collapse of the real estate market in America. San Rafael High is funded through the property taxes of the City of San Rafael, which meant the school had to cut classes in order to stay within the budget.
Mr. Shepard shows disappointment over the financial barrier that has been put over driving now among teens. Even though people could have an easier class if they did it online, it still costs a few hundred dollars for the class. Shepard also knows that not all students who drive to school have a driver’s license and that it’s because of the price of the class. “I think if you actually taught it at school for free, then you would have more legal drivers on the road than you do now.”
Mr. Shepard also isn’t much of a fan of the alternative online class or its practices. “Unlike any other class in high school, there’s a reward, it’s a driver’s license,” said Shepard. “So I never had a discipline problem and students did their best. But with an online class, there’s no accountability.”
Mr. Shepard shows great frustration from an educator standpoint, as he thinks the people making these programs are greedy and don’t have the student’s best interest in mind. “To me having a professional educator in the classroom helping the students learn is way better than somebody who’s putting together a program for driving school.” Shepard elaborates, “Most of the people I know who run driving schools are making money and they really don’t care whether the kids are learning or not.”
Although the students don’t have to pay the school to take the class, the main cost would be the cost of a teacher; Not only financially but scheduling-wise too. Not every teacher can fit another 30-day class on top of their preexisting teaching schedule. “The cost of a teacher is the cost of a class,” said Shepard. “I would think that a Driver’s ED class would cost less than an art class, we wouldn’t spend nearly as much on materials… It would be like having a History class or an English class.”
While such a class, if brought back today, could truly help people get their driver’s license and incentivize better driving practices, there will still be accidents. Although some may have factors that correlate with the crash, not all accidents are as black and white.
Milo, Bo, and Gabe have been examples of the teen driving topic for a while now. Their accident during the mid-November of 2019 shook the general populace of San Rafael. With Milo driving, Bo in the passenger seat, and Gabe seated in the back, the trio were on their way to get gas for their chainsaws. They were doing errands up in Arnold clearing away trees for Milo’s Mom and were driving on a dirt road near White Pine Lake.
However, the road led them to their back tires being hit by a small bump in the road. After their car started swerving and attempting to counter-steer to straighten out, their car went off the road as the drivers’ side was hit by a tree. As Gabe states, “The real panic didn’t set in until right after the accident when we realized how injured Milo was.” Bo and Gabe had minor cuts and bruises as they emerged from the accident. Meanwhile, Milo suffered severe injuries and was needed to be immediately evacuated to Stanford Medical Hospital and was later transferred to the Vallejo Rehabilitation Hospital. Afterward, he’d spend much of his time recovering alongside his grandmother in Bolinas.
Milo was paralyzed and went into a coma, he had a tracheotomy and a feeding tube so he couldn’t eat or breathe independently. He suffered facial fractures and his optic nerve was damaged from his brain swelling and went blind in his left eye, and only has half of the vision of his right eye. Milo had lost his short term memory, and only until 7 months after the accident and in rehab did he start to gain his memory back around mid-July. At many points in the interview, Milo had to rely on his parents to fill in the blanks of what was occurring at certain times. Luckily, Milo’s IQ isn’t affected by his accident, he’s just having difficulty making the connection in his head which has only gotten better.
Despite the uphill battle Milo had to face, he was steadily progressing with his recovery and rehab. Since Milo was now blind, he had to learn how to walk with a white cane and learn to read and write braille. However, for other activities, he was able to excel quickly. For instance, Milo was an avid mountain climber and still had the muscle memory, which aided greatly in his recovery.
“The doctors were like, ‘Okay, okay, you’re gonna try and walk for the first time,’ and he just gets up,” said Milo’s Mom Jen. “Even though he had been in a coma and was really weak, he just got up and started walking. And they’re like, ‘Wow! Wow! We were just gonna do one step!’ And they’re next to him and they’re like, ‘Oh my God, he’s a beast!” Because of the talents and skills Milo developed before his accident, those activities seem to supersede his memory loss and he was able to reconnect with those activities at a much quicker rate.
Milo has also been getting back into photography, taking pictures for the yearbook. On top of the conditioning he’s been doing, Milo has not only grown in strength but also in height. After his accident, Milo went from being 5’11ft to now 6’3ft.
Despite not having any memory of such a pivotal moment in his life, Milo thinks it was convenient he didn’t remember the accident. Although sounding rather contentious, both family and friends of Milo came to similar conclusions as him.
“I’m kind of grateful that Milo doesn’t remember anything,” said Bo. “Whether it be the car crash or the recovery process… because it was just nothing good to remember.” Bo can attest to this, considering he had to undergo counseling because of the psychological impact of the accident along with Gabe and other close friends of Milo. “I remember when I went to counseling I was thinking this was a waste of time.” Bo continues, “I was essentially really angry and just distraught ever since the accident… I guess even though I personally dismissed my emotions as just grieving, it’s just different when you have nothing to blame.”
What Bo is lamenting over is the fact that his accident seems to have no direct cause and wishes he could take more of a life lesson away from this. A big point of contention over this accident is Milo’s driving background. Although Milo didn’t have a license, it appears to be a clear cut case of negligent driving and not enough experience. But people don’t factor in Milo had been driving stick shift jeeps off-road at only the age of 9. Even with a license and with driving experience from the start of 10 years old, Bo feels that he would’ve made the same mistake if he was behind the wheel.
“I think Milo is not statistically relevant,” said Jen. “I think that in theory, it’s a good idea that kids drive for a really long time, way before they can get on the road with other people. But with Milo, in some ways, you could say it didn’t work. He still made a mistake, he was jeeping off-road and had an accident.”
Bo also talks about his dismay over not just the accident, but of people’s preconceived notions towards him. “I’m not angry at it, but I do believe it’s a pretty demeaning prejudice.” Bo continues, “I get it, if you look at it on paper, if you look at the demographic of car accidents and then look at age, intoxication, reckless behavior… it makes sense. But when you start to place these assumptions about something with life-changing consequences, it just doesn’t help anyone.”
Milo still continues to make steady progress over a year after the accident. He plans to still go onto college and try and be as independent as he can from his parents. Even in the past month in Arnold, Milo’s been up to incredible activities. Whether it be shoveling snow, going snowshoeing and hiking with his white cane, or even learning how to do cross country skiing, Milo’s well on his way to recovery for the years to come.
Throughout all the interviews, the many perspectives that people have on driving are hard to pinpoint down. There is no one type of accident, there sometimes isn’t even a factor for its cause, sometimes there are just accidents. Even with all the safety precautions and all the warnings and dangers, accidents still occur and may always still occur. There may be a solution and there may not be, in any case, such an answer being found seems as likely as you getting into an accident yourself; it’s undeterminable.
“I’m glad I did the interview,” Bo remarks. “It’s something I don’t talk about very often… and it’s a really awkward thing to reach out about. So I’m really glad you reached out, it was good for me and hopefully, I get to spread my words about my feelings regarding this. And yeah, drive safely.”