A Plea to Teen Drivers: Be Safe

March 03 2017 | Blog
  • Kentucky Car Accidental Injury Attorney

    Tie-dye t-shirts usually don’t seem appropriate for somber occasions, but to the fellow students of the late Savanna Jo Biles, they are a bittersweet reminder of the passions their friend held so deeply.

    “She loved color,”  Savanna’s mother, Lisa Biles, told The Tennessean. “She loved life. She saw beauty in everything. She saw beauty in the clouds. She saw beauty in nature.”

    Savanna’s passionate personality touched everyone at Page High School, but her death is a doleful reminder of the need for teens to practice safe driving habits. Biles is just one of four students in Williamson County, Tennessee who died in the four-week period leading up to Christmas vacation last year, and one of many to die in the past year.

    These teens are joined by countless others whose lives have been cut tragically short by fatal teen driving accidents. Their stories will remain etched in the minds of friends and family, but you can learn some of their names and personalities below.

    Teens, please keep this information in mind when you make decisions on the road that can, in an instant, change your life forever.


    Savanna Biles

    Age: 18

    Hometown: Franklin, Tennessee

    18 year old Savanna Jo Biles was a senior at Page High School in Franklin County, Tennessee. By all accounts, she was passionate about her friends and about life. When Biles died, a letter from her friend Jordan Cram was found in her wallet.

    “She was always pushing me to do stuff, branch out and meet new people,” Cram recalled to The Tennessean. “Before I knew Savanna, I only had a few friends … you could see at the visitation and funeral, it was like the whole town came together.”

    On Monday morning, December 19, 2016, Savanna Biles’ vehicle crossed the centerline of S. Carothers Road while turning through a right curve. The vehicle then rode into a ditch, where it flipped, pinning Biles next to a tree. Police found no signs of drugs or alcohol in Biles’ system, and she was wearing a seatbelt at the time of the accident.


    Austin Oppelt

    Age: 18
    Hometown: Thompson’s Station, Tennessee

    Austin Oppelt was a recent graduate of Independence High School and began attending his first year at Columbia State Community College. Oppelt was quite passionate about working on his 1194 BMW 352i. He nicknamed her “Betty White” for her white color and her unexpected tenacity despite her age.

    On January 10, 2017, Oppelt and his friend Andrew Tidwell were riding in the white BMW when they lost control after cresting a hill on Critz Road. The vehicle crossed the center line and flipped after entering a ditch. The vehicle then struck a group of trees, broke through a fence, and proceeded to roll several times before resting on its roof in a field.

    Tidwell survived the crash with injuries, but Oppelt, unfortunately, did not. Both teens were wearing seatbelts, and neither drugs nor alcohol were involved.

    Jim Cheek

    Age: 18

    Hometown: Charlotte, Tennessee

    Jim Cheek’s jersey number 18 sat upon his back when he represented his team on both football and baseball fields. Now, the number 18 can be found upon the helmets of not just Cheek’s fellow football players at Centennial High School in Franklin, Tennessee, but also on the helmets of their rivals at nearby Brentwood High and Independence High. They keep the number as a solemn reminder of Cheek’s memory. These teams also brought meals to Cheek’s grieving family.

    Everyone remembers Cheek as a happy-go-lucky guy with a trademark “goofy smile.” One friend wore a shirt with tribal patterns on it to Cheek’s vigil back in December. The friend says that Cheek urged him to spend some of the last of his money on the shirt during a trip to Honduras so that they could all wear them together. “Hunger is temporary,” Cheek told him, “But these shirts are going to last forever.”

    Cheek was found dead at the scene of a property near Maple Valley Road in Charlotte, Tennessee. Cheek and his friends had gone out hunting, riding together in a Toyota 4Runner. The driver had increased his speed before he lost control, leaving the trail and skidding for about 25 yards before flipping over. A gap in skid marks indicates that the vehicle may have gone airborne before skidding. Cheek was found lying near the vehicle in a field with severe head trauma. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

    Preventing Teen Driving Accidents

    These three lives cut tragically short all represent a disturbing trend of teen driver deaths in Tennessee, and our community is not alone. The CDC reports that an average of six teens between 16 – 19 years old die every day from motor vehicle injuries.

    Why are these numbers so disproportionately high compared to the rest of the population? According to Teen Driver Source, 75 percent of all serious teen driving accidents involve teens driving too fast for road conditions, getting distracted, or failing to fully scan their surroundings for hazards. Running off the road is one of the most common causes of crashes.

    In light of the recent deaths in Williamson County, Williamson County Schools are forming a teen driving safety task force to promote safe driving habits and awareness of driving risks.

    Superintendent Dr. Mike Looney also took the time to share separate messages to teens and their parents. Addressing teens, he implores with them:

    “Please, please slow down. Wear your seatbelt. Eliminate the distractions in your vehicles. Focus on driving. In particular, when it’s rainy outside, or when it’s dark outside, or when the roads are slick — those all increase the risk factors for you.”

    Teens, please take this advice to heart. Driving may seem carefree and without risk, but a single mistake is all it takes to cut your life short and leave your friends and family in mourning.


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