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From an unthinkable tragedy, a lesson for your teenage drivers

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Max Keevill soon after crossing over into Boy Scouts.

Max Keevill had it all — and did it all.

The 16-year-old was a straight-A student, a member of the National Honor Society, a violist for his high school’s orchestra, a soccer player, and a Life Scout just a few months away from earning Eagle.

After Cub Scouts, Max’s Scouting career really blossomed. He liked the weekly meetings — for the most part — but what really captured his heart was camping, hiking and sitting around the campfire with his friends. His Scouting highlight was a trek at Philmont.

After high school, he hoped to attend college to study biotechnology and help the world. The plan after college was to marry his high school sweetheart, a fellow member of the orchestra and student council.

Tragically, all that ended on Jan. 15, 2011. 

On that day, Max was in his Jeep in full Scout field uniform. He was on his way to a Scout meeting to work with younger Scouts. He was less than two miles from home, driving along a familiar route made dangerous by heavy rain that day. His car veered off the road, went through a ditch, and hit a wooden fence that came through the windshield. Max was killed instantly. 

There were no witnesses, but all drug and alcohol screenings were negative. To this day, authorities aren’t clear what caused Max’s Jeep to veer off the road.

When his father, Chris, received the death certificate, his eyes were drawn to the section marked “place of death.” It read, simply: “in a ditch at the side of the road.”

“Losing your child is the worst fear of any parent,” Chris says, “but this statement somehow made it even worse.”

Max, second from right, loved attending Philmont with his troop.

Max, second from right, loved attending Philmont with his troop.

Memories of Max, coupled with a desire to save other parents of teenage drivers from similar heartbreak, have pushed Max’s parents to become involved with the HEARTS Network, an initiative of the National Safety Council and the Allstate Foundation.

HEARTS is a nationwide community of families whose lives have been changed forever because of car crashes involving teen drivers. Through HEARTS, affected families share their stories and engage in meaningful ways to educate and influence others. The stories are personal and powerful. 

And the numbers are staggering: Every day, more than 15 people die in crashes associated with teen drivers, according to the National Safety Council. 

Inexperience is the leading factor in teen crashes. Though we’re not sure what caused this future Eagle Scout’s fatal crash, we do know he had been a licensed driver for just three months when he died.

“Car crashes are the No. 1 killer of teens,” says Amy Williams, manager of teen and distracted driving advocacy at the National Safety Council. “Inexperience is the leading cause of teen crashes, and the first year of driving is the most dangerous. We encourage parents to ride with their teens before and after teens receive full licensure. This way parents can reinforce safe driving practices and curb any bad habits that may have developed.”

As a parent and Scout leader, you have a vital role in keeping teenage drivers safe. Start by visiting the National Safety Council’s teen driving page for printable materials and more information.

Chris, Max’s dad, knows what can happen if parents and key influencers like Scouters don’t take an active role in teenage driving safety.

“Don’t assume bad things only happen to other people,” he says. “Instead, take action and educate your child to protect them and minimize the risk of them driving off one day never to return.”

11 Comments on From an unthinkable tragedy, a lesson for your teenage drivers

  1. Roy Woodruff // March 21, 2013 at 9:39 am // Reply

    Thanks for sharing this story. My fear was not so much about the skills my sons have driving, but those that are in the other cars. This story brings up a good point to ride with your children after they have their license…

    On a side note, I think the BSA should start giving out Honorary Eagle awards to the families of Scouts that loose their life prior to being awarded the Eagle due to an accident or disease. I think certain criteria should be met such as living the scout oath and law, and being at a certain level of Scout (Life). Maybe there is such a thing. They give out honorary doctorate degrees, so why not?

    • Jessica H. // March 21, 2013 at 1:11 pm // Reply

      This is already done, Roy. It’s called the Spirit of the Eagle Award. Any scout of any age, who loses their life during scouting years can be presented with this certificate.

  2. Steve Stockham // March 21, 2013 at 9:45 am // Reply

    Oh my, I hate reading about things like this and my heart goes out to the family and friends of this young man! Chris’ words are profound and are being taken to heart as I have a daughter that is learning to drive and will be getting her driver’s license in a couple of months and I will be “making” extra time to insure that my daughter is as fully prepared as possible!

  3. Carey Snyder // March 21, 2013 at 10:10 am // Reply

    In that Honorary degrees are meaningless, often given for no reason more that someone donated money to the institution or donated a wing to the science building or a letterman’s room to the stadium, I think it would be demeaning to the scout and his memory to give an “honorary” Eagle. I only made it to Tenderfoot, before dropping out of scouts in the mid 1950’s because of an ineffective troop. I have come to regret not continuing to Eagle. I respect and, even at 68, am in awe of those who earn Eagle. (I am the grandfather of an Eagle.)

    The only exception that I can see to this is one who is dies just before his scoutmaster conference and BOR. And I wouldn’t call it an honorary Eagle at that point.

    My heart goes out to the family of the Scout in the article. But I know if I were in his position, I would want to remember my son or grandson for what he had earned, that for what he was given.

    Perhaps the most appropriate way to remember him and other scouts, especially those lost during or on their way to and from a scouting activity would be the way Texas A&M has with the Aggie Muster. As I understand (any Aggies please correct me on this), the names are called of all lost since the last Aggie Muster. Someone is designated to answer “here!” for each one. In that way, each is remembered – a similar thing could be done at National or Area Scout Activities – this Jamboree would be a good time to start this (Jamboree committee, please take note – 3 months till Jamboree is time to implement something like this).

  4. Dianna Gatz // March 21, 2013 at 10:44 am // Reply

    The Boy Scouts of America has created the Spirit of the Eagle Award as an honorary, posthumous special recognition for a registered youth member who has lost his or her life in an accident or through illness. – As a mother of a scout who lost his life due to a ATV accident I can feel the pain of the Keevill family. This award came out a couple of years after my son’s death but I know his younger brother would have benefitted from it had it been available.

  5. Chris Dahlgren // March 21, 2013 at 10:53 am // Reply

    Minutes ago my Life scout dropped me off at home and drove the family car to school for the 1st time. He passed his drivers license test this morning. I check my email and the 1st entry I see is this article from Bryan on Scouting. I will definitely be handing my son this article tonight when he gets home. Thank You.

  6. Kelly Thorp // March 21, 2013 at 11:20 am // Reply

    It is always sad to hear about youth that have fatal accidents and even more heartbreaking when it is apparently due to their own decisions and experience. Whether it be the choice of reckless driving or, in Max’s case, an apparent lack of experience driving in less than optimum conditions.

    One way we scouters can help our youth that are approaching driving age (or already there) is to encourage them to earn the Traffic Safety Merit Badge. If I recall, this Merit Badge is one of the least popular but, in my opinion, one of the most pertinent. It should be one of the top 20! I am a Traffic Safety MB Counselor and, from my own experience, I have seen the positive impact on youth who do earn this merit badge. We all know that our youth (at the driving age) tend not to listen or take advice from their own parents. By earning the Traffic Safety MB, they have the opportunity to learn about safe driving from one more additional source other than their teacher or parent.

    I would encourage everyone to review their Council/District MB counselor list and see how many Traffic Safety MB counselors are on it. If a small number, I would encourage you to consider signing up for it and offering it in your area. Not only offering it – promote it. Maybe, just maybe, by doing this you can prevent another accident like Max’s.

  7. David Richardson (Obiwan) // March 21, 2013 at 5:31 pm // Reply

    Bryan
    Thankyou for the story and the family for sharing. I hope that by sharing this story about Max that his death is without loss, and that maybe just maybe it will help save a life somewhere sometime.

    My sympathies to Max’s family, and to everyone else who has lost someone special

    “At the going down of he sun, and in the morning; we will remember them”

  8. David Salser // March 21, 2013 at 9:45 pm // Reply

    During my term as Scoutmaster, I lost one Scout to a Motor Vehicle Accident. This was not easy because all the boys were at the local Fire Station (I am an active member there) helping another Scout with his Eagle Scout Fundraiser. I will never forget two of the Scouts whose parents are officers in the fire service came to me and told me I needed to go. I checked with one of the Assistant Scoutmasters present and made sure I wasn’t needed. Well I went. We got on scene and had four injuries and a fatality. I did not immediately know that one of my Scouts was involved. I made the mistake of asking and found out who the fatality was. I made sure that I was one of the ones to get my Scout out of the car. Not the easiest thing any Scout Leader should ever have to do in their life. Well, this Scout was to have his Eagle Scout Board of Review on the night of his wake. I made sure that all of the paperwork was completed and we got the Eagle Scout Certificate and Badge at his wake.

  9. A former Scout from my Cub Scout Pack and Troop (who moved to Texas and eventually became an Eagle Scout) suffered a similar fate. Sad to see when this happens to our young who have so much promise…

    http://www.yourhoustonnews.com/kingwood/news/student-killed-in-single-vehicle-accident/article_a58fa29d-2e9f-59c1-9b0d-67040f748d4d.html

  10. My heart breaks for this family. May the family find peace in their future.

    As a concerned parent regarding this issue, I recently made a suggestion to BSA National, but have had no response. Here’s what I suggested:

    I would like to suggest that the BSA consider introducing a “Driving” merit badge, if not under consideration at this time. With all of the diverse merit badges that the BSA offers, not offering a “Driving” merit badge sticks out like a sore thumb. Driving is a privilege that almost all teenagers will work towards at age 15, but the skill level and safety awareness, etc., required for today’s teenage driver is inadequate. We know that vehicle crashes are higher among teen drivers. The CDC statistics show that teen drivers are three times more likely to be in a fatal crash, to drill a little deeper, teenage male drivers death rate are two times higher than female drivers. What better proactive way to change those statistics? Offer the male teenagers of nearly one million youths of the BSA a “Driving” merit badge.

    In reading the Scouting January-February 2013 issue article “Rules of the Road” the BSA is moving toward driver’s education by way of the younger Cub Scouts with the Automotive Safety Patch program, now we need a movement towards those teenage Boy Scouts. Take a look at http://www.drivingskillsforlife.com, an organization that could be a fantastic partner to help make this happen.

    There is so much more that can be said for this issue…

    Yours in Scouting!

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