Fatal crash in Wis. sparks national campaign against speeding
Video made after 3 girls die in speed-related wreck will reach kids across country
CAMPBELLSPORT, Wis. — While distracted driving and texting usually make the headlines, speed often gets overlooked. But it doesn’t get any easier for Candi Stahl to think about what happened on Feb. 4, 2012, let alone talk about it.
“We never got to see her play her first soccer game, unfortunately, because of the incidents that happened,” Stahl said.
Stahl’s 15-year-old daughter, Sabrina Stahl, was known for her speed on the soccer field. It’s what got her onto the varsity squad at Campbellsport High School as a freshman. But it would be speed that ended her life.
“I don’t want any other family to have to go through losing a child out of a bad choice that someone else made,” Stahl said.
Sabrina had just met some of her new teammates that night. They went out to toilet paper some houses, then they grabbed some late-night fast food. None of them were drinking.
Nine girls were packed into one car as they flew down a popular shortcut in Campbellsport: Beechnut Drive. Through crash re-creation, state patrol investigators estimate the driver was taking the dips on the rural road at at least 85 miles per hour, maybe hitting more than 100 miles per hour. The posted speed limit is 35 miles per hour.
Investigators said the car caught inches of air, but came down off-balance. The vehicle swerved, and the driver over-corrected. The wheels left the pavement and hit a dropoff on the side of Beechnut Drive. The car flipped at least five times into a corn field.
Three teenage girls — Katie Berg, Caitlin Scannell and Sabrina Stahl — died. Three others were injured. The driver was not hurt.
“You’ve got to let your kids know that they’re not invincible,” Stahl said.
Stahl and the other parents who lost children in the crash, along with a few of the crash survivors, agreed to sit down with video producer Gregg Burmeister.
Burmeister wasn’t connected to the crash or the families, but he had seen a similar incident in Verona. He discovered there were no materials educating Wisconsin’s young drivers about the dangers of speed, and he wanted to do something about it.
“There was a sense that we could maybe make a difference, maybe take a different approach and get the passengers to be more concerned about their safety,” Burmeister said.
The parents’ pain became a clear message for everyone as the video’s title: “Speak Up To Slow Down.” The community started sharing the 26-minute video with students around Campbellsport and Waupun.
Tari Costello, an animal science teacher and Future Farmers of America adviser, has been on the front lines of sharing the video and the lesson behind it.
“It’s never a question of, ‘Do we show it to our kids?’ It’s always, ‘How quickly can we get this in front of kids?'” Costello said. “Everybody needs to see it.”
Costello knew the three girls who lost their lives. She described them as honor roll students, great athletes and upstanding people.
“That whole week was probably the worst week of my life because my own children were deeply impacted,” Costello said. “These girls were at my house, at my home, on a regular basis. It was the last place they were that night before the crash.”
Costello started by showing the “Speak Up To Slow Down” video to her FFA chapter. The group then made posters, T-shirts and pledge cards, committing more and more students to slowing down on the roads.
A banner now hangs in the cafeteria, and it’s covered in signatures. Each signature represents a student that signed on to the pledge to say something when things are moving too fast and take responsibility when they’re behind the wheel.
Costello said the campaign is memorable because every kid who watches can put themselves in the shoes of those girls.
“I want them to understand the heartbreak, that people don’t come back and that nobody intended for this to happen,” Costello said.
High school seniors Tia Vanbever and McKenzie Farr have seen the impact firsthand. The students will help take the message nationwide in October when the chapter shows the video to FFA members from across the country at a conference in Kentucky.
Vanbever and Farr said there are never dry eyes at the end of those 26 minutes.
“I don’t think it’s worth the thrill of the moment,” Vanbever said. “When you lose someone you love, it’s really not worth it.”
“You can’t bring those lives back once they’re gone,” Farr said. “It’s a choice that you made to push that pedal, and it’s a crash, it’s not an accident.”
Now, a memorial sits beside the field where Sabrina would have played soccer for Campbellsport. Stones show the names and faces of the three girls who died in the crash. The families even got permission from the school board to officially name the field 3 Angels Field.
“We don’t want any other family to go through what we’ve gone through. It’s a horrible feeling. It’s tragic for us,” Stahl said. “And the sooner we could get the word out there, the better and the more lives that hopefully we can save.”
Burmeister said there are plans to expand the campaign in the future. Stahl hopes to build more around town in memorial of the teenage girls, and they are looking for support for those new projects and help with expanding the campaign.