James Johnson assured his 16-year-old daughter Lisa he would return from the war alive.
He returned from Afghanistan for her funeral.
"There’s nothing that makes a father more proud than knowing his baby was loved," he told a packed Scottsdale Bible Church. "Thank you for loving my baby."
Hundreds attended services Thursday for two Scottsdale teenagers who died in separate Saturday car crashes.
Lisa Johnson, a Chaparral High School sophomore remembered for her singing and dancing, died when a sport utility vehicle carrying her and three others went off the road just north of Cordes Junction on Interstate 17 Saturday morning.
Edward John Yankowski Jr., 15, a sophomore at Desert Mountain High School, died later in the afternoon, when he lost control of a Jaguar he was driving and swerved into the path of a forklift. Services for the snowboarder and surfer were at Our Lady of Perpetual Help, where he was involved with Friends of the Orphans, a charity that helps children in Latin America and the Caribbean.
"He lived his life to the fullest," said friend Andrew Scarano, 16, a sophomore at Saint Mary’s High School. "He was outgoing in everything he did."
Lisa Johnson and Yankowski were the third and fourth Scottsdale high school students to die in car crashes in the past eight weeks.
Teen drivers have the highest crash risk of any age group, according to a joint study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Of fatal teen crashes, the highest percentage involve driver error, speeding, single vehicles or multiple people in a vehicle.
The elevated risk for young drivers comes from lack of experience and risktaking — or poor judgment, experts said.
"The key to everything is education and behind-thewheel training," said Cydney DeModica, spokeswoman for the Arizona Motor Vehicle Division.
The state created a special driver’s license in 2000, which created harsher consequences for 16- and 17-yearolds violating traffic laws.
AAA Arizona is backing a bill this year in Arizona that would further restrictions, making teens unable to drive from 1 to 5 a.m. and limiting the number of passengers to the number of seat belts, said spokeswoman Laura Rightenburg.
Extended training has a profound effect on learning drivers, but laws can’t prevent poor, youthful judgment, said drivers education instructor Charles McLane.
"When they try to put the regulations and things to make it safer for a teenager or increase the safety, it usually doesn’t have much effect," said McLane, the head instructor at ABC Driving School. "You can’t cause people to want to behave. That’s the major problem."
Drivers in both of Saturday’s fatal crashes had only learner’s permits and did not have licensed adults in the vehicles.
Teen drivers with learner’s permits must have a licensed adult driver in the vehicle with them. However, Scottsdale police officer Scott Reed said it is difficult to enforce. Police need a reason to pull a driver over — and not just that they look young.
Parents should invest in teenagers’ education and help them mature as drivers, Reed said. "It takes a while to learn how to handle a car correctly," he said.
• Memorial contributions for Lisa Johnson can be made to: Lisa Johnson Memorial Fund, Wells Fargo Bank, account #3190797344.
• Memorial contributions for Edward John Yankowski, Jr., can be made to: Friends of the Orphans, P.O. Box 25507, Tempe, AZ 85285.
By the numbers
Percentage of drivers involved in vehicle accidents who were under the age of 20 in 2002: Tempe: 12.8 percent Scottsdale: 11.4 percent Mesa: 14.2 percent Gilbert: 19.2 percent Chandler: 13.3 percent Source: Arizona Department of Transportation