On a crisp fall day last October, more than 40 high-school students from the Clackamas County area arrived at Grace Chapel in Wilsonville to “Drive with a Cop” — and improve their skills behind the wheel. “Drive with a Cop” was a six-hour session that put newly licensed drivers in their own cars with deputies from the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office. The deputies then helped the teens navigate a driving course. The event was made possible by a grieving mother’s pledge to save lives.
Turning grief into action
Clackamas County Sheriff Craig Roberts, who contributed agency resources to the event, had a personal stake in “Drive with a Cop.” He’s a father of three — two of whom are teenagers — and he knows just how dangerous teen driving is.
“Car crashes are the number one killer of teens nationwide,” he said. “I’m no different than any other parent out there — every time my kids get in the car, I hope they make good decisions. It only takes a moment for a life to change forever.”
Carrie Higgins’ life was changed forever on June 8, 2014, when her oldest daughter — 17-year-old Maddi Higgins of West Linn — died in a car crash.
“The second the phone started ringing, I knew — it was a mother’s intuition,” Carrie said of that fateful day. Investigators at the crash scene on Pete’s Mountain Road said the car was traveling at speeds of more than 80 miles per hour when the driver, 18-yearold Hayden Soyk, lost control and crashed, killing Soyk instantly. His passenger, Maddi, suffered critical injuries and passed away a day later.
Through the unbearable pain of her loss, Carrie Higgins said she felt called to turn her grief into action. “What could we have done differently?” she said. “And what can we do now to empower teens and adults?”
To that end, Higgins created “Angel 5 — Long Live the Legacy of Five” — a campaign that aims to make young people aware of the possible consequences of speeding and driving impaired or while distracted. The “Angel 5” campaign represents five Clackamas County teens who lost their lives in car crashes over a 16-month period. Higgins also met with Sheriff Roberts last summer, and they decided they wanted to create an event that would help teenagers become better drivers.
Driving with cops and sharing stories
The Sheriff’s Office partnered with Oregon Impact, the World of Speed Museum, and Grace Chapel to organize “Drive with a Cop.” Teens participated in the driving course with deputies, but also had the opportunity to try on “impaired goggles” that illustrated the effects of drunk driving, as well as hear from a panel of speakers and learn about the dangers of distracted driving. They also viewed a powerful video produced by the Sheriff’s Office about Maddi Higgins and the crash that took her life.
“I didn’t know Maddi, but I knew her sister,” said Hunter Normand, a Clackamas High student who participated in the October event. “It hurt to see the pain that her death caused.” Maddi’s story is not unique — 75% of fatal teen crashes are the result of high speed, and automobile crashes are the number one killer of teens nationally. Crashes like the one that killed Maddi happen every day across the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control, those most at risk are male drivers, teens driving with extra passengers, and newly licensed teens.
“The message we want teenagers to understand is that you should put down your electronics and drive,” said Sheriff Roberts. “If you’re distracted or texting, your actions can quickly take the life of another.”
“It opened my eyes to the dangers of driving,” said Normand after the event, “and also that my actions don’t just affect me. My decisions on the road impact my friends and family.”
The event proved therapeutic for the Higgins family. Maddi’s sister Halle said it was gratifying to see other teens learn about safe driving: “I’m glad that other teens are out here learning how to be better drivers.”
“The event was a huge success,” said Pastor Mike Tatlock of Grace Chapel. “Anything we can do to help kids be safe on the roads is worthwhile.”
Event organizers are already planning for next year’s “Drive with a Cop.” The Clackamas County Sheriff ’s Office is actively looking for sponsors and volunteers for the event.
Carrie Higgins remains dedicated to spreading the word about safe teen driving. “It keeps Maddi’s name alive,” she said. “But more importantly, hopefully, it saves lives. Hopefully our efforts can prevent one fatality and one family from going through what we have.”
To learn more about “Angel 5 — Long Live the Legacy of Five,” visit www.oregonimpact.org/drive_for_5.
To watch the video about Maddi Higgins shown at “Drive with a Cop,” visit the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office YouTube channel at YouTube.com/ClackamasSheriff.