I was contacted by Design Director David Speranza to do a shoot for a feature in Road & Track. The article was about teen drivers being undertrained and the outdated drivers license exam process. I was asked to photography Danica Lacey and Martha Tessmer on location just outside Fresno California. While in high school Danica was driving with her friends and boyfriend when she lost control of her car and killed her boyfriend Donovan; Martha's son. Here is a bit of their story:
From the moment she got her learner's permit, just after her 15th birthday, Danica followed every traffic law, every rule of the road. She obeyed every nuance of California's strict graduated-licensing laws. She looked both ways at every intersection. She never got so much as a parking ticket. Then came that night in the middle of July.
Lacy's boyfriend Donovan Tessmer, a star running back at Liberty High in Madera, California, had just finished his last day of football camp. The couple had the rest of the summer in front of them, but this night began quietly enough. Lacy and Tessmer remembered making plans to drive a few friends to see the new Transformers movie.
Lacy would drive. She was the only one old enough to have passed all her licensing requirements; Tessmer was 10 days too young to drive at night with passengers. They picked up three friends in the silver Toyota Corolla that Lacy's father had bought her for her 16th birthday, headed to the Cineplex, and spent two hours watching Camaros come to life on the big screen. As they started home, Tessmer realized he left his Game Boy in the theater. Tessmer and Lacy split up. He went back to the Cineplex. She went off to get gas, chips, and energy drinks.
When Lacy swung by for the 20-minute drive home, Tessmer and his two football-player friends piled into the Corolla's back seat and did what teenage boys do: They began wrestling over the snacks. With the stereo pumping out music and three boys wrestling in her back seat, Lacy started driving faster. Too fast-75 or 80 mph in a 55, down the back road to Madera Ranchos. Most drivers avoid the deserted two-lane that winds through the apple orchards, but Lacy liked how it was usually free of traffic.
"Can't you keep this car going straight?" Tessmer joked from the back seat. The silver Toyota was trying to tell Lacy something, but she didn't understand. "You mean like this?" she said. She playfully jerked the steering wheel.
What happened next was a confluence of physics, bad luck, and bad judgment. In that long moment when the car began to slide and Lacy realized something was very wrong.
The Toyota left the road and careened into an orchard, crashing into one tree, then another. A rear door was ripped off. The boys in the back, unbelted, were hurled from the vehicle. Lacy and her front-seat passenger were merely shaken up. Two of the rear passengers were seriously injured. Donovan Tessmer, the third, wasn't so lucky. "I saw him lying in his own blood," said Tessmer's best friend, Dustin Simpson. "We were having fun, and in a split second, he was dead."
I first met with Martha. She now travels across the country for Impact Teen Drivers talking to students about what happened with her son Donovan. I have a 21 month old daughter and since she was born the only thing I've ever truly cared about is her well being. If something happened to her I honestly don't know how I would handle it. Martha talks about her story day in and day out and she has an amazing attitude about everything that's happened.