Colin McDonald - Express-News
On Tuesday night, his friends and family gathered to remember the Alamo Heights senior who was driving more than twice the speed limit when he hit the concrete wall of a drainage ditch less than a block from his Terrell Hills home at 1 a.m. Saturday.
Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death for teenagers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But Texas has seen a 22 percent decrease in teenage traffic fatalities since introducing restricted drivers' licenses for new drivers in 2002 and the Teens in the Drivers Seat educational program, the Texas Transportation Institute reported this week.
Department of Public Safety investigators working with Terrell Hills police determined Whitley was traveling 68 to 70 mph when his Toyota Camry went off Morningside Drive, a residential street. They concluded the cause of the accident was excessive speed, according to Police Chief Greg Whitlock.
On Saturday and Sunday nights, most of the Alamo Heights High School senior class gathered at the crash site, where they prayed and constructed a makeshift altar.
“He had some really, really close friends,” Karen Whitley said. “I think he has more now than he realizes.”
He recently had become an Eagle Scout after doing a landscaping project at the University of the Incarnate Word. His friends said he was laid-back and spontaneous, except when it came to planning for the project, an outdoor study area for students.
To get in shape, he started a daily training regime, running 3 miles and doing push-ups.
“It was funny. He was kind of like that pudgy kid with glasses in elementary school and then in high school was ridiculously fit,” said J.T. Looney, a close friend since first grade.
More Scouting trips would take Whitley to Colorado, where he climbed nine of the state's 14,000-foot peaks with his dad and the “crew,” as members of Troop 59 call themselves. His dream was to attend college in that state so he could climb all 53 of those peaks, Karen Whitley said.
“He loved the adrenaline he got from it,” Looney said. “He used to brag at school that his top speed on Morningside was 70 mph.”
But for a 17-year-old, he was very grounded, his mom and friends agreed. On Friday night, he was returning home from a friend's house.
Motor vehicle crashes account for more than a third of all teenage deaths in the United States, according to the CDC. Driving at night is the leading cause of teenage driving fatalities, said Bernie Fette, a Texas Transportation Institute researcher.
“We conducted interviews with 7,000 teenagers and only 2 percent realize that driving at night is a risk, much less the No. 1 risk,” Fette said.
By Robert Crowe - Express-News
The incident happened about 1:20 a.m. in the 600 block of Morningside Drive.
"As far as the contributing factors, it's all under investigation right now," said Sgt. Rick Trevino of the Terrell Hills Police Department.