Police, school officials, teachers and students joined Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano Wednesday at Bethpage High School to talk about teen driver safety at the approach of the "100 Deadliest Days for Teen Drivers," between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
One student who stood with Mangano was his niece Natalie Mangano. The 17-year-old junior's sister Claudette died at age 15 as the result of an auto accident near the school in November 2004.
While Natalie did not speak, Mangano was clearly emotional.
"Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of injury and death among teenagers," he said on the school's lawn. "Every year, nearly 5,000 teenagers [in the nation] die in automobile accidents. That equates to 14 teenagers dying every day. Another 300,000 are injured in car crashes annually."
In Nassau, he said, 1,850 teens were injured in cars last year and four teen drivers were killed.
"That's why we do this," he said and pointed to a smashed car police placed on the lawn as an exhibit. "These statistics are why we gather here today."
Elaine Kuhlke, 17, a senior and one of about two dozen students on hand, said earlier that she has a Nissan Sentra that her father has let her drive for the past seven months.
"I'm a careful driver and so are my friends," she said. "For example, when your cellphone rings, you give it to your passenger and say, 'See who it is and answer it for me.' "
Mangano, chatting with the students earlier, told them that driving is "great privilege, but you really have to take caution. Practice the good skills you learn in driver education every time you get behind the wheel."
Police Commissioner Thomas Dale told the students later: "And don't ever, ever drink and drive."