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Parents agree mom should be prosecuted for son's fatal accident

The woman's son, 15, was in a fatal wreck after she let him take the car.

By Abhi Raghunathan, Times Staff Writer
Published March 8, 2008


ST. PETERSBURG -- Lisa Stone knows parents have to make tough decisions about their children every day. But she can't understand how Lesa Ledesma could hand her car keys to her 15-year-old son when he said he wanted to pick up friends.

The night ended with Ledesma's son crashing a Saturn Ion filled with five other teenagers who weren't wearing seat belts. Raquel Carreras, a 14-year-old cheerleader at Northeast High, was thrown out of the sunroof and killed. Stone's son Zack, 17, had been dating Raquel.

"You're responsible for what your kids do," said Stone, 39. "If Lesa had stepped up to the plate and been the parent she should have been, this wouldn't have happened."

As news spread that Ledesma, 42, had been arrested Wednesday on a charge of manslaughter in connection with Raquel's death, several parents expressed approval of the prosecution. And they said that even if Ledesma isn't convicted, news of her prosecution would encourage other parents to keep a closer eye on young drivers.

Prosecutors charged Ledesma after a Florida Highway Patrol investigation found that she gave the keys to Shawn even though she knew he wasn't legally allowed to drive. The Highway Patrol says Shawn was driving more than 70 mph in a 40 mph zone when he lost control and crashed about 10:45 p.m. on Sept. 15, 2007.

At the time of the accident, Shawn had his learner's permit for about a month. He wasn't allowed to drive after 10 p.m. or without a licensed 21-year-old in the passenger seat. Shawn was arrested in December on a charge of vehicular homicide.

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Bruce Murakami, the founder of the St. Petersburg nonprofit group Safe Teen Driver, knows just how dangerous teen drivers can be. In 1998, a teenager who was racing killed his wife and daughter in Tampa.

"I applaud the State Attorney's Office for doing this bringing charges," Murakami said. "It will bring some awareness. ... If anything good is going to come out of this, parents are going to go 'We really need to think twice about letting Johnny take the car out.'"

Lesa Ledesma could not be reached for comment. Court records show that she recently was sued for negligence by a car insurance company in connection with the fatal accident. And the company that owns the apartment complex where she lived had begun eviction proceedings for failing to pay rent.

Ledesma now lives in a small, beige-colored home within walking distance of Northeast High. A sign on a fence says: "No trespassing. Violators will be shot. Survivors will be shot again."

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Students at Northeast High still remember Raquel. Carley Austgen, a 16-year-old junior, said people bring her up any time someone wears Jamaican colors, since Raquel was a fan of Bob Marley.

Carley said she felt that Shawn's mom was more responsible for Raquel's death than Shawn.

"If your mom is giving you the keys to the car and letting you drive, what kid is going to say no?" she said.

Before minors can obtain a learner's permit, a parent must sign a notarized form that details all the restrictions placed on a learner's permit.

Aaron Dreher, owner of the Safer Dixie Driving School in Pinellas Park, has discussed the fatal crash with students and parents as an example of the bad decisions teenagers can make while driving. He said the prosecution of Lesa is an example of the bad decisions parents can make.

"We tell our parents that their kids are still minors," Dreher said. "They're responsible for every action that their kids take on in the car."

Dreher said his school gives parents statistics about how unsafe young drivers are, and also provides parent-driver contracts that specify additional restrictions, such as limiting the number of passengers in the car.

"If parents are not being responsible and giving up the keys, then they need to be held responsible," Dreher said.

Janice Naylor, 54, Carley's guardian, pointed to Ledesma's actions as an example of how parents today are more likely to be friends with their kids instead of disciplinarians.

"Parents today don't accept enough responsibility for their children," Naylor said. Carley "is 16 years old and still has her permit. Even when she gets her license shes not going to be carting kids around until I'm secure of the fact that she's a really good driver."

Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. Abhi Raghunathan can be reached at araghunathan@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8472.