Leon Worden

Live from the scene: Are you next?

By Leon Worden
Saturday, January 19, 2002

heldon Bell was still in the passenger seat when I reached the scene a little after 3 a.m. Sunday. His tortured body was slumped over where his soul had left it two hours earlier.
    Sheriff’s Capt. Don Rodriguez gave me the news. Two Saugus students. My heart sank.
    Here we go again.
    Sgt. Clint Bowers filled in the details for me. Robert Smith was flying up Bouquet Canyon Road, doing about 100 mph when he lost control at Centurion Way.
    Dennis Welch from the city pointed out the solid mound of dirt behind the block wall at Heidi Jo Lane. No doubt it stopped Smith’s Mustang from giving the neighbors an early morning wake-up call in their bedroom.
    A short time later, at Castaic Lake, I mentioned the crash to a spokesman for the sheriff’s homicide bureau. He lives here.
    “Won’t they ever learn?” he asked, frustrated and shaken.
    He was at the lake to discuss the investigation into the deaths of four men in a racing boat that flipped when they tripled the speed limit.
    He knew the answer to his question.
    “We talk to kids about these things, but it’s something we can’t control,” Saugus Principal Norman Estrada told one of our reporters.
    Two popular, jovial, multi-talented athletes who had the whole world ahead of them. Girls. Marriage. Careers. Progeny of their own.
    Coach Chad Phillips said Bell “played the game of his life” on the basketball court a few days earlier. That time, he won.
    Bell and Smith played the true game of their lives on Bouquet. This time, they lost.
    Some call it the Superman Syndrome. The notion of invincibility. Kids have it. Adults have it. I guess I had it without realizing it.
    I confessed to Bowers at the scene. I used to drive like I owned the road. But not since Feb. 17, 2000.
    “You see a few of these and they have that effect on you,” he said.
    Marcus Lellan may have saved my life. He certainly taught me a lesson he, himself, didn’t learn in time. I was actually afraid to drive the freeway the other day. Me. Before Sunday’s crash.
    We seem to be doing this more often the last couple of years, I told Captain Don. Half the population out here is under 34, he replied.
    Later, I remembered we had a similar conversation in the middle of Soledad Canyon Road while Nolan LeMar’s lifeless body was pinned inside his Chevy Tahoe. Here was a kid whose only fault was to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Like Rodney Adams. A car flies out of the air and you’re dead. No warning. No time to figure out what hit you. No chance to say goodbye.
    And it will happen again. The powerlessness to stop it overwhelms. The Saugus principal articulated it. You can lead the students to the classroom, but you can’t make them soak up the simplest lesson:
    Drunk or not, whether you’re 17 or 47, drive like an idiot on the streets of Santa Clarita and you will die. Dodge the lifeguards at Castaic long enough and you will die. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But you will die. And chances are you’ll take someone with you.
    Take a hard look in the mirror. Ask yourself if you’re ready.
    Leon Worden is The Signal's city editor.

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