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Teens Aim At Seat Belt Awareness

VALRICO - Emotion broke Kaye Sommer's voice as she recalled the night at Tampa General Hospital when she comforted her friend's mother, assuring her that everything would be fine.  Everything was not fine.  Her friend, 16-year-old Katie Marchetti, a student at Durant High School, was traveling Interstate 75 without wearing her seat belt. She would not recover from the injuries she suffered when she was thrown from her car March 3 and then run over by another.

Katie's boyfriend, 19-year-old A.J. Lamantia, veered off the road, striking first a guardrail, then a concrete wall.  Sommer had been involved in an accident a year earlier. Her friend Joanna Chastain was not wearing a seat belt when her car hit a telephone pole in March 2005. Chastain bears a serious facial scar as a result, Sommer said.  "After mine and Joanna's accident, I was sure it couldn't happen again in our small group of friends," Sommer said as Katie's mother, Laura, comforted her this week.

Sommer and others from Newsome, Bloomingdale and Durant High schools, are banding together to support Laura and Vin Marchetti, Katie's parents, in their crusade for a more stringent seat belt law - one they believe could save countless lives.  "I don't want anyone to go through the pain and suffering Katie's family and friends are going through," said Sommer, a 16-year-old Newsome High School student.

She and up to 100 other people plan to travel by bus to Tallahassee April 26 to support House Bill No. 97, legislation that would make it a primary offense for drivers of any age to be caught driving without a seat belt. That means any driver can be pulled over and ticketed for a seat belt violation.  Currently, only drivers younger than 18 can be pulled over for a seat belt infraction.

The students are working with the Marchettis through the recently formed Katie Marchetti Memorial Foundation to get others to join the cause.  Several are circulating petitions in support of the legislative bill, sponsored by Rep. Irv Slosberg, D-Boca Raton, called the Dori Slosberg Safety Belt Law. The bill is named in honor of his daughter, who was not wearing a seat belt when she died in a traffic accident.

"It takes 10 seconds to put on a seat belt," said Katie's longtime friend, Jennifer Johnson, a 16-year-old Durant High student. "Why not help prevent others from dying?"

As the recently crowned Miss Central Florida Teen, Johnson will use her platform to visit middle schools and promote the cause, she said. "Maybe if they hear it from someone close to their own age ... they'll understand what I'm getting at."  Julie Spiker, a 17-year-old Bloomingdale High School student, has been pushing the message regularly, she said.

"Putting on a seat belt is something we can all control," Spiker said. "You don't want that to happen to anyone else you know."  "I've always believed something good can come from something bad," said Sarah Paquin, 17. "At Bloomingdale, kids are signing the petition, and we're thinking of making a banner for the lunch room."

She and others will hold a car wash at the Citgo service station at 3501 Bell Shoals Road from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday to raise money for the foundation, which promotes seat belt awareness.
"The message we want to get out there," Laura Marchetti said, "is that my daughter died because she wasn't wearing a seat belt, and we want to connect with people who have had a similar loss and help prevent potential future loses."
Anyone interested in joining the bus trip to Tallahassee can e-mail Laura Marchetti at supporthb97@hotmail .com or call (813) 681-4291.


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