Cathie Anderson: Elk Grove program hailed for making safer drivers of teens

Published: Thursday, Nov. 15, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Thursday, Nov. 15, 2012 - 7:47 am

Moms think that texting will land their teenagers in a fatal automobile crash. Dads, on the other hand, believe that drinking and speeding will be the cause.

Talk with Richard Harkness, though, and you will see that these are not the leading causes of accidents involving teen drivers.

Harkness has a doctoral degree in psychometrics, so he gets excited about measuring people's knowledge base, their attitudes, their abilities, and even the usefulness of the tools used to do the measuring.

Back in 1995, he thought psychometrics could be used to help end a terrible tragedy. You see, more U.S. teenagers die in traffic accidents than by any other means.

Together with a panel of medical doctors and behavioral scientists, Harkness identified critical driver lessons – visual search, hazard detection, speed adjustment, space management, risk perception and lifestyle issues – and came up with ways to teach them and assess the skills.

"It's not only looking for hazards but recognizing them and prioritizing them and dealing with what's called divided attention and being able to synthesize a lot of information quickly and make good judgments," Harkness said.

Five years of work and a $6 million investment ended with the teenSMART driver program. It integrates testing and computer tutorials with parent-teen activities that allow adults to impart advice without turning off the child. Harkness' Elk Grove company, ADEPT Driver, recently won the Teen Driving Safety Leadership Award from the National Safety Council.

"A number of insurance companies … saw up to 30 percent reduction in crashes for kids who took the class, compared with kids who didn't," said John Ulczycki, the council's vice president of strategic initiatives. Many insurers offer teenSMART at a discounted price, but it's also sold for $120 at

A saga, by the chapter

Desmond "Desi" Reynoso is still operating the Town House restaurant on 21st Street in midtown Sacramento, but the clock is running out for him.

Back in 2003, Reynoso agreed to pay Frank Torres $522,000 over 25 years to acquire the Town House. Torres died in April 2004, and the note was passed to his heirs as part of the Torres Family Trust.

By 2011, Reynoso owed $491,206 on the property, but he wasn't making payments. He filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy protection and secured approval for a plan to turn things around.

He didn't make his payments, though, said bankruptcy attorney Phil Rhodes, explaining that this happens about half the time in such cases. The Fair Oaks lawyer didn't counsel Reynoso but agreed to look over the filings with me.

Reynoso did not return calls for comment. His bankruptcy petition elicited an automatic stay, preventing the Torres Family Trust from starting foreclosure until the matter was settled.

Torres' daughter, Shirley Johnson, told me that four foreclosure sales were scheduled before one finally was executed last month. Each time they tried to foreclose, she said, Reynoso tried another legal gambit.

When his first bankruptcy filing failed, he filed a second petition in July 2012. This time, though, the automatic stay lasted only 30 days – the result of a change in bankruptcy laws in 2005.

"Before that, people would file, their case would be in bankruptcy for six months, and then they'd turn around and file again," Rhodes said. " … You have the opportunity to come in during that first 30 days and explain to the judge why this case is different."

Reynoso didn't act in time, and the Torres family got the go-ahead on foreclosure. Then Reynoso filed a Chapter 12 bankruptcy petition, a type of filing designed for family farming or fishing operations. The 30-day clock doesn't apply in Chapter 12 cases, but the court quickly dismissed the filing since the Town House is not a farm or fishery.

At the foreclosure sale last month, the Torres trust was awarded the property. They've had to hire an eviction attorney, Johnson said, adding, "We did hire a real estate agent and have listed the property. There are interested parties."

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