Hunter Clegg often went without his snack and lunch breaks, opting instead to help someone who truly needed it.
The eighth grader wanted to go through training so he could work one-on-one with a developmentally disabled kindergartener. The gesture was indicative of Hunter’s empathy and loving personality. In addition to helping the young girl, Hunter always was careful to include peers who may not have been as popular or talented as him. He chose the less athletic students for his teams in physical education classes. Hunter taught other young children to make paper airplanes because he could tell it made them happy. His selflessness was born from his love of life. Hunter cherished every moment and spent much of his time outdoors swimming, hiking, fishing, dirt biking, snowboarding, wake boarding, skateboarding and doing backflips off a ramp he built near his house.
Hunter’s mother, Leeana, doesn’t feel she has to build a legacy for her son. Hunter created his own, and did so in just 14 years.
She can’t imagine the accomplishments Hunter would have had if he hadn’t been in a vehicle with several of his peers on Aug. 9, 2009.
Hunter was going on a camping trip with friends, and one of the boy’s fathers didn’t have enough room in his vehicle to transport everyone.
The father decided his 17-year-old son should drive some of the boys. The misguided decision had horrific consequences.
The young driver, who was not legally permitted to be carrying any passengers, became distracted by other boys in the vehicle. He lost control while trying to drift around a curve on a windy, mountain road. The vehicle slammed into a tree.
The other boys survived the crash, but Hunter died instantly. His beautiful life was over, and Leeana’s world was shattered.
“Hunter was kind, loving and compassionate beyond his years,” Leeana said. “At the age of 14, he just ‘got’ what was important in life. He was a very gentle soul.”
Car crashes are the leading cause of death for teens in the U.S., and teens crash at three times the rate of more experienced drivers. Carrying passengers is particularly dangerous for new, inexperienced drivers. Just one passenger can increase crash risk by 48 percent; three or more increases crash risk by as much as 307 percent.
Passenger restrictions often are a part of each state’s Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) system, which helps minimize common risks teen drivers face while maximizing their behind-the-wheel experience.
Leeana knew about GDL and the risks teen drivers face while learning. She was so aware of the dangers that she had taken away her older son’s provisional license when he drove a friend just two blocks. She wants other parents to understand how dangerous passengers are to new drivers.
Had the father of Hunter’s friend known those risks, Leeana’s son may still be alive.
“Parents must set expectations with their kids as drivers and as passengers,” Leeana said. “Parents also must set expectations for other parents. This father decided to allow his 17-year-old son to drive a car full of 14- and 15-year-old boys without asking any of us parents for permission.”
Leeana has engaged on the issue of teen driving by joining the HEARTS Network, where she can share Hunter’s story on a national level. By doing so, she hopes other parents will be vigilant about their teens’ safety, whether teens are behind the wheel or asked to ride with one of their peers.
“We want others to learn from Hunter’s story so they will never experience the life sentence of pain and suffering we have dealt with,” Leeana said.