Let's save our kids from an early grave [Letter]

The number one cause of injury and death for our young, ages 5 to 35, is motor vehicle crashes. Entities such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the American Automobile Association, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, as well as many smaller nonprofits such as Bike Maryland, Perils for Pedestrians, and the Association for Safe International Road Travel are working hard on specific aspects of making our thoroughfares safer.

Perhaps the worst aspect of all those car crashes are hit-and-runs. Last August, 20-year-old Samantha Kreppel was a hit-and-run victim just down the street from our home. Worse, if that is even imaginable, Samantha was left to die on the roadside where she remained for many hours before her body was found. Would she be alive today had the killer stopped? I wonder every day as I cycle past her roadside memorial.

Samantha has become one of too many hit-and-run victims. Last spring, 15-year-old Skylar Marion was killed (and a 13-year-old girl he was walking with injured) — yet again just a few miles from our home. In a touching turn of events, Skylar's heart was donated to his friend ("One year later, fatal hit-and-run crash remains unsolved," April 14).

Last June, 5-year-old Jalyn Shaw was in the crosswalk with her mother, siblings and several other family friends in Ocean City when she was hit by a car and thrown 50 feet. The 18-year-old driver made a run for it but was fortunately caught.

That July, bicycle advocate and Bike Maryland colleague Tom Blanks was a hit-and-run victim while bicycling on vacation. He was left seriously injured before being discovered in a ditch.

In August, a 35-year-old in a wheelchair was hit by a car and injured in Charles County, the 28-year-old alleged hit-and-run driver was arrested at her home three days later. Also in August, ex-marine Eric Bridgett was killed and left in the street to die in his Clinton community. He had served in the Marines for six years, including providing earthquake relief in Haiti. The driver left his wife and three young children to deal with the tragedy and loss.

In October, 32-year-old Joseph Blake was killed by a hit-and-run driver in Baltimore. He had recently been a resident in Carrington House, a home I helped build for 54 formerly homeless men in recovery. Yes, this hits home in an awful way and the toll continues as a 22-year-old student, Cory Hubbard, was also left to die by a hit-and-run driver in Prince Georges County.

In all these crashes and accidents, the perpetrators fled. Many have not been caught. Some will never be caught. Who is going to advocate for Samantha, Jalyn, Tom, Skylar, Robin, Eric, Joseph and Cory and their families? Who will lead the charge to change our heavily car-centric cultural reactions to these unacceptable hit-and-run crimes? Changing our attitudes and behaviors takes decades of hard work, often led by nonprofits in partnership with government leaders. It's tedious, heartbreaking work and yet it's imperative if we want to see our quality of life improve. On a positive note, Maryland is the first state to begin actively measuring the quality of life impacts of events like car crashes on something called the Genuine Progress Indicator.

At Maryland Nonprofits, our mission is to help strengthen, educate and engage new and experienced nonprofits to be as effective as they can be in achieving their missions. I'm issuing a challenge for someone or some organization to create a nonprofit or at least to begin a program in an existing charitable organization whose sole mission is reducing the number one cause of injury and death of our young. Maryland Nonprofits will do our best to help you get off to a great start. We will help you establish your organization, set up your financial and reporting processes and help you learn what it takes to find the funding you need to make this compelling mission a reality.

We need nonprofits that are innovative and effective in tackling some of the toughest challenges that confront us. Now, in defense of the tens of thousands of young people impacted by traffic crashes and hit and runs every year, who's prepared to stop the number one killer of our children? If that's you, and you're in Maryland, call or email me at 443-438-2316 or gcantori@mdnonprofit.org. We're ready to help you succeed.

Greg Cantori, Baltimore

The writer is president and CEO of Maryland Nonprofits.

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