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Teen’s death in crash stirs mom’s painful memories

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

ONLY ON CLIFFVIEW PILOT : Suzanne Glock Beattie was already bracing for what would have been her son Kevin‘s 18th birthday next week when news came of a young man killed when a car driven by another teen rammed a passing freight train. “What will it take? I can’t stand it,” said the Emerson mom, afraid that inattentiveness was to blame.

Kevin Beattie, Marcus Ruta, Suzanne Glock Beattie (Facebook photos)

Kevin, then 15, and a 14-year-old friend were killed on a dangerous stretch of Route 17 a little over two years ago when a reckless young speedster lost control of their car and rolled the vehicle.

Now, following another North Jersey tragedy involving a teen who authorities said was violating the terms of his license, Suzanne Beattie is reliving a nightmare.

“I don’t blame the trains, buses, etc.  It’s the reasoning in our kids heads,” she said. “They are fearless…. They just don‘t get it.”

The state Motor Vehicle Commission said it had restricted the teen behind the wheel from driving with two non-family members in his car after his driver’s license was temporarily suspended for speeding and driving without a license, according to the Bergen Record.

Suzanne’s other son, Christopher, is coming home from school this weekend, “and he’s going to read” those facts, his mother said. She fears he’ll do what she’s doing now: replay the events of that fateful November night.

“My son should NEVER have gotten in the car that night,” she said. “I want to think he knew he wasn’t supposed to — but, then again, maybe he didn’t.”

The then-17-year-old driver with the provisional license was originally sentenced to 18 months incarceration for vehicular homicide after prosecutors proved that he was speeding when his Nissan Maxima rolled over several times on southbound Route 17 in Waldwick.

The parents of the dead teens agreed to a 15-month sentence. But last year, despite appeals from Suzanne, Christopher and state Assemblyman Robert Schroeder, the state Parole Board released the driver after 10 months.

The crash occurred on a stretch of Route 17 that some compare to the Bermuda Triangle. Vehicles enter quickly from side streets, while drivers heading south on the highway from New York don’t ease up on the gas after several miles of freeway driving. Complete attention is critical.

Small towns like Emerson are hit hard by such senseless tragedies. Yet while the latest affects a much larger North Jersey borough, the impact is the same: Marcus Ruta was a popular Hawthorne High School graduate who played football and wrestled.

Ruta was in the front seat and another friend in back when 19-year-old Jeffrey Cohen, still attending Hawthorne High School, smashed the Jeep into a moving train in Franklin Lakes after they’d been snowboarding that day at Campgaw Mountain in Mahwah. Ruta was killed.

Increasing loved ones’ pain was an official finding that all of the traffic-safety warning equipment at the Pulis Avenue railroad crossing was working. Occupants waiting to cross in other cars could only watch helplessly.

No one has mentioned the possibility that Cohen might have fallen asleep or suffered some kind of seizure or attack.

In lieu of that, it must be made clear: The one thing driving requires more than anything else is attentiveness, especially at night.

A sudden glance from the roadway, a stray thought instantly flooding your mind — these happen. So do sudden flashes of sunlight directly into your eyes in the daytime. If you’re lucky, you continue on your way until you can react in time. There, but for the grace of God, go we all….

“He must not have been paying attention — that’s all,” a still-shaken Suzanne Beattie said. “It’s frightening.…”

Unfortunately, you can’t force drivers to pay attention. Car companies would have to invent locking headrests that shut a car down if you‘re not wearing them, or a radio signal that keeps a vehicle from moving if a cellphone is in use, among other innovations.

For those who would blame the railroads: That’s like saying physical barriers should replace all red lights and stop signs. Remember: The rails were here long before suburban sprawl. Time was, these incidents were few and far between. Towns now must adapt to the transportation lines, not the other way around.

If you have crossings in your town, notice the signs, the flashing lights, the grids painted on the roadway. They are specifically designed to catch a driver’s attention. Even if there isn’t a train coming through, the expectation is that you slow down enough to be able to stop in time — just in case the lights aren‘t working. It’s a railroad crossing, after all. A train could be coming through at any time.

Say you’re not driving slowly or attentively on a stretch of roadway posted with “Deer Crossing” signs. YOU could be killed.

This is no different. Gates at the Franklin Lakes crossing would be additional security, not the be-all and end-all.

In the end, the debate spurred by the perfectly natural desire to engineer safety misses the point: Another young life has been lost, and others ruined — perhaps forever.

Kevin Beattie’s mom knows. Here’s a woman who beat breast cancer. And although nurses admired her courage, it was nothing to Suzanne: She’d already lost a young son.

“Hurting is part of my life now, every day,” she told CLIFFVIEW PILOT , a little more than a week before Kevin‘s Feb. 4 birthday. “And when I see this happen again…  the pain I KNOW these families are going through … it‘s immeasurable…

“How many of these is it going to have to take?”

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