Comatose after collision

March 14, 2002, midnight | By Jessica Stamler Stephen Wertheim | 18 years, 10 months ago

Former student has been in coma for over 3 weeks

"I was shocked but not surprised," says junior Colette Richards, recalling her reaction to the car crash of the now-comatose David Willemstijn, 18, a former Blair student and her friend since kindergarten. "It strikes me as David."

Heading east on Democracy Blvd on Feb 20, Willemstijn lost control of his blue 1997 Toyota Supra shortly before 1:00 a.m., sending it airborne and into four trees, according to Officer Stan Buchanan, the primary investigator of Willemstijn's crash. Both Willemstijn and his passenger, 17-year-old Devin Walker, survived the wreck that left Willemstijn in a coma from which he has not yet awakened, and his Supra crumpled like a sheet of tinfoil.

Willemstijn, listed in critical condition as of Mar 10, was brought to Suburban Hospital after the crash. He still lies in intensive care, unconscious but able to move his arms and legs. His broken right leg is bandaged after a Mar 9 operation. Praying for his recovery, his mother Olga calls his condition stable, though she says "no one can tell" when he will awake.

Willemstijn dropped out of Blair before the start of this school year, which would have been his senior year. Derek, his brother, is currently a Blair freshman.

Walker, who currently attends Walter Johnson High School, escaped the crash with non life-threatening injuries, according to Montgomery County police spokeswoman Lucille Baur. Baur also says the crash did not involve another vehicle. While police are still investigating the incident, Buchanan says indications point to dangerous speed as the crash's primary cause. Buchanan says that a mathematical reconstruction calculates Willemstijn's speed at a minimum of 79 miles per hour.

Excessive speed and reckless or negligent driving were also the causes of seven Montgomery County teen deaths in 2001, says Buchanan, who feels teenagers are especially likely to engage in such behavior. "The attitude that nothing can happen to them makes kids more prone to take risks and disregard the safety of themselves and others," he says.

Willemstijn's mother acknowledges that speed did characterize her son's driving. "He liked to go a little bit fast," she says.
Likewise, many friends of Willemstijn describe him in the same terms that junior Devin Grasty uses: "a fast driver," whose speeds, he says, often eclipse 90 miles per hour. Grasty has driven behind Willemstijn but refuses to ride as his passenger.

According to junior Anna Wong, she and her friends saw Willemstijn's crash as almost inevitable. "We all thought he was going to get into an accident one day because of his driving," she recalls.

Despite Wong's recognition of the dangers inherent in reckless driving, she admits to being among a group of students who regularly drag race at the New Carrollton Metro Station. "Just for the heck of it," she says, she's drag raced Willemstijn a few times, and she calls Willemstijn a frequent racer. "He probably races every single weekend," says Wong. "On the Beltway, on the street, wherever."

Such activity earned Willemstijn a reputation amongst racers, according to sophomore Cynthia LeFevre, Willemstijn's friend. "Everyone who does racing knew who he was," LeFevre says. She remembers Willemstijn telling her on Feb 17 that he planned to race later that night—three days before the crash.

While police say no evidence indicates Willemstijn challenged another driver before crashing, LeFevre says the competitive mentality that drag racing fosters affected Willemstijn's driving on normal roads. "Every time he got behind the wheel, he thought he became invincible," she says.

Whatever the cause, news of the crash elicited an especially emotional reaction from Richards. Though initially unsurprised, Richards later cried. "I broke down, thinking he could be the third friend I've lost to car accidents," she says.

In addition to the two who died, two other friends of Richards were injured by car accidents this December—separate collisions, both on the same night.

Willemstijn's crash, Richards says, has reaffirmed her vow "never ever" to race. And she thinks some of her friends who do race will now reconsider. "If any good can come from this, it would be that this is a lesson to others that you have to be careful on the road," Richards maintains. "It's not a playground; it's real life. A lot of teenagers today don't understand that."

LeFevre agrees, saying that some would-be racers are rethinking their driving habits. In fact, a friend tells her he's removing everything that "souped up" his car for drag racing so he won't be tempted to race anymore.

But all that can be done now for David Willemstijn, his mother says, is wait for his condition to improve. "We're praying and hoping that he wakes up," she says. "His friends should pray that he gets well soon."

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Jessica Stamler. Co-editor-in-chief Jessica Stamler is a senior in the CAP program at Blair High School. Besides Chips and academia, Jessica enjoys singing, writing, making music, and committing random acts of craziness. Her activities include: youth group, Blair gymnastics team, Students for Global Responsibility, and InTone Nation … More »

Stephen Wertheim. Co-editor-in-chief Stephen Wertheim is deeply committed to reporting, even when it conflicts with such essential life activities as food consumption, sleep and viewership of Seinfeld reruns. In addition to getting carried away with writing and playing violin, Stephen thoroughly enjoys visiting and photographing spots around … More »

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