Students hope peers hear safety message

The mangled car and shattered glass were the result of an auto accident when Ellie Stefano fell asleep at the wheel.

(Editor’s note: This is the first in a two-part series on T.I.E.S.This one introduces the speakers. The next one will get more into the traffic safety statistics.)
by Jim Boyle

Elk River High School senior Ellie Stefano will celebrate her 18th birthday today.
She almost didn’t make it to this special day.
She fell asleep while driving on Highway 10 between Becker and Elk River back on May 15 of last year.
With her cruise control set at 65 mph, her car veered from the right lane to the median, waking her suddenly. She over-corrected only to watch in horror as her car turned sideways and hurtled straight toward a road sign.
“I thought I was done,” she recalls. “I just closed my eyes.”
This long and painful blink of the eye is one of the reasons she was one of 25 to sign up and apply for Together Inspiring Education and Success (T.I.E.S.). As part of the T.I.E.S. program, she’s one of the five Elk River High School students who were selected to stand at the front of high school classrooms to offer a refresher course of sorts on drivers education.
The others are Aubrey Higgins, Collin Crane, Morida Soun and Ann Iannuzzelli. They’re also giving talks on truancy. This is the first year of the program, which was initiated by Sheriff Joel Brott.
Higgins, an 18-year-old friend of Stefano, signed up  with the idea of helping people.
And now that she has been driving for a little while, she realizes her perspective has changed.
Like a lot of kids, Stefano and Higgins cruised through their drivers education classes focused on the prize of a driver’s license. They found much of the material boring. When they were done, they marveled at how they could now drive.
“It’s so much more of a big deal,” she said.
It sank in after Stefano nearly died on the night of May 15. Stefano’s car struck the pole and rolled two times. She struggled to free herself and watched in desperation as cars whizzed by her.
The reality of her situation sank in more and more during the days that followed as she walked around, wondering what others would be doing if she wasn’t there anymore.
She and other members of T.I.E.S. hope this type of message resonates with their peers.

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