Originally created 01/01/02

Tragedy tops teens' list



For teens, 2001 was a year dominated by tragedy.

A two-week Xtreme poll revealed that area teens thought the most important events of 2001 included the story of a Thomson teen-ager charged with murdering his parents, a car accident that killed a Davidson Fine Arts Magnet School student and the never-ending story of guns in schools - including two incidents in the Augusta area.

Overshadowing all of those events were the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. Doubtless the most important event of 2001, the attacks weren't included in the poll. Instead, Xtreme devoted a separate story to their impact, with teen board members interviewing other teens about how the events continue to affect them.

Results of the poll, conducted online and through the telephone Infoline system, are:

Murder charges: The top story, with more than a quarter of the votes (27 percent, or 15 out of 56 respondents), was the arrest of Thomson teen Matt Dean in the shooting deaths of his parents, David and Terri Dean. Mr. Dean, 18, was indicted on 11 charges - including malice and felony murder and aggravated assault - in the Aug. 3 deaths and in a knife attack on his 14-year-old sister, Bethany. He pleaded not guilty to the charges in October and is awaiting trial.

Flag flap: Last year it was South Carolina. This year it was Georgia's turn. Augusta-area teens were just as embroiled in the debate about changing the state flag as their elders, and 25 percent of poll respondents thought it was the biggest story of 2001. In January, the Georgia legislature approved a new version of the flag that reduced the Confederate battle flag to a tiny ribbon at the bottom. The decision followed a sometimes bitterly divisive debate about the use of the Confederate battle flag in the design.

Car accident (9 percent): A car wreck in April left driver Sara Craig, 18, in a coma and killed 17-year-old Lydia Guntharp, a Davidson student. The two girls and another friend had been visiting a fourth teen to tell her about the death of Davidson student Alison Bruker, who had succumbed to a liver disease. In September, Lydia's parents filed a civil suit against Sara - still in a coma - her father, Richmond County District Attorney Danny Craig, and the driver of the pickup truck. A response to the lawsuit denied liability, and the suit is pending.

Weapons in schools (7 percent): In March, two teens were killed during a school shooting at Santana High School in Santee, Calif. A day later, a Pennsylvania teen attempted a school shooting.

In May, freshman Joshua Jones, 15, brought a .32-caliber handgun and bullets to North Augusta High School, saying he had to protect himself against bullies. The Belvedere teen was expelled and placed on probation. In November, Joshua, now 16, was arrested again, this time on charges of trespassing and disorderly conduct at a high school football game.

Also in November, a 12-year-old girl brought a gun to Spirit Creek Middle school because of an ongoing fight with another student, which included a dispute over a boy.

Driver's license changes (7 percent): Restrictions on teen drivers were tightened by the Georgia legislature, including a requirement that teens have 40 hours of on-the-road driving experience with parents or in a driver's education class before getting a license.

Band scandal (5 percent): Six Glenn Hills High School students were disciplined for incidents of hazing and sexual activity on a Jan. 13 band trip to St. Petersburg, Fla. A school tribunal found that freshman band members were paddled as part of the hazing ritual and that one was taken to a hospital with minor injuries after returning to Augusta. Glenn Hills students complained about becoming targets of media scrutiny and public ridicule, while many other high school students shrugged their shoulders, labeling the misbehavior as typical for school trips.

Sex charges (5 percent): Paul Thomas, a Navy Junior ROTC teacher at Strom Thurmond High School in Edgefield, S.C., was arrested in January and accused of fondling students. He was charged with five counts of committing lewd acts with a minor and six counts of assault with intent to commit criminal sexual conduct. Mr. Thomas pleaded guilty to the charges in March and was sentenced to 20 years in a Columbia prison.

Murder trial: (5 percent) In November, Wallace Priester, 16, was convicted of murder in the October 2000 shooting deaths of Joshua Brewer, 17, and Albert "A.J." Still Jr., 18, at the Sonic Drive-In in Barnwell, S.C. Mr. Priester was sentenced to two life terms plus 75 years in prison without the possibility of parole. He's being held at a juvenile facility in Columbia and will be transferred to the state prison system when he turns 17 in October.

Shark attacks: (4 percent) High-profile attacks had beach-goers wondering if it was safe to go back in the water.

Idol deaths: (4 percent) Celebrity deaths that hit teens hard included race car driver Dale Earnhardt, singer/actress Aaliyah and former Beatle George Harrison.

Reach Alisa DeMao at (706) 823-3223 or ademao@augustachronicle.com