On Nov. 11, 2006, his daughter Jessi, 17, crashed her 1997 Honda Civic near the intersection of Trickum and Steinhauer roads. James said Jessi lost control of her car after driving into the other lane and swerving to miss another car. Her vehicle went about 40 feet into the air and down an embankment.
“She was basically dead on the scene,” he said. Jessi, his only child, was a senior at Lassiter High School and an avid softball player. She was wearing a seatbelt and was very familiar with that stretch of road, driving it several times every day, James said. She also had many hours of driving time under her belt.
Earlier this month, tragedy struck again for the Lassiter community, not far from the spot where Jessi was killed. On July 7, recent Lassiter graduate Ryan Aschenbach, 18, was driving a 2006 Volvo S40 with two other teens in the car when he crossed over the double yellow lines on Trickum Road and collided with another car. Aschenbach died the next day. His two passengers and the driver of the other car were hurt.
Although Cobb Police say the numbers of teenage drivers killed in car crashes since 2006 has dropped significantly — in 2006, nine teenage drivers died in Cobb crashes; last year, the number was three — Officer Pete Jones said the common denominator is often inexperience.
“There’s no magic bullet. You learn to be more careful with experience, so if you survive the first four or five years of driving, you get experience,” Jones said. “Some factors driving the decrease are believed to be safer vehicles and more stringent restrictions on young drivers. These laws are being brought out in drivers ed classes.”
In recent years Georgia lawmakers have restricted driving hours and limited the number of passengers teenage drivers may have with them, among other changes.
The state also requires teens younger than 17 to pass a driver’s education course in order to get a license.
Neither of Cobb’s two public school districts offer driver’s education in their high schools, though the districts do collaborate to offer a week-long driver’s ed program through the Marietta Community School. Classes are offered year-round.
Several private companies also offer driver’s training across Cobb.
At Marietta Community School, students get 30 hours of classroom training and six hours behind the wheel. The course costs $375.
For Jessi James’ parents, six years has not made her death easier to accept, though Jessi’s organs live on in at least three other people.
“If it’s your day, it’s your day,” James said. He reminds other parents of teenagers to “hug them, kiss them and tell them you love them.”