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Madison High School Junior Dies After Car Wreck

Alcohol, speed, and seat belts were factors, say police

Speed, alcohol, and seat belts were factors in a single-car accident on Sunday night that killed Chris Haden, 16, a junior at Madison High School, said Fairfax County Police Officer Sophia Grinnan.

A memorial service is scheduled at 11:30 a.m. on Friday, Oct. 18, at the Church of the Holy Comforter, 543 Beulah Road in Vienna.

Haden was driving a 1991 Volvo station wagon eastbound on Stuart Mill Road when he lost control of the car a little east of the Oakmont Court intersection just before midnight on Sunday, police said.

After the car ran off the road on the right side of the pavement, it returned to the pavement but rolled over and came to rest on its roof, Grinnan said.

Haden, the driver, who was not wearing a seat belt, was partially ejected and pinned under the car, she said. Logan Sands, 18, the passenger in the right front seat, ran to a nearby house for help.

Rear seat passengers Cory Williams, 17 and Zachary Cilman, 16, of Vienna, were taken to Inova Fairfax Hospital, treated and released.

The three passengers who survived were all wearing seat belts, Grinnan said.

According to police, the driver was flown by helicopter to Inova Fairfax Hospital. The boy suffered head injuries and died Monday several minutes after he was removed from life support systems, said a member of the family.

IN A RITUAL of mourning that has become customary in Fairfax County when a teenager dies in a car crash, on Monday afternoon, Columbus Day, a group of young people gathered on Stuart Mill Road at the site of the accident

They placed flowers, notes, poems, balloons and other mementos beside the road. They wept, hugged, laughed, and told anecdotes about Chris Haden, and shared what they knew about the circumstances of his death. They wrote personal messages to Chris on the guitar he left with them.

Chris’s father, sister, and younger brother also visited the site on Monday afternoon.

“He was a boy with a smile,” said Fred Haden, his father. “These kids need to take care of themselves. These kids need to take care of each other,” he said.

Even as the teenagers knotted together beside Stuart Mill Road, two parents stood nearby, trying to warn approaching cars to slow down.

As the site of the accident is approached from the west, the width of the road doubles for a turn lane onto Oakmont Court. Then, the road narrows again just before the accident site.

CHRIS HADEN WAS an “awesome” young man who loved music and played guitar, according to one of his friends who gathered at the site of the accident Monday. He mimicked Inspector Gadget and liked to sing the music from his favorite bands: Dispatch, Sublime, the Grateful Dead, and Bob Marley.

“I have never, ever seen him be mean to anyone. He was a complete free spirit,” she said.

Chris was the middle child in a family of five: one older sister, Amelie; a brother, Fred, who plays baseball at Marshall University, and two younger brothers, Justin and Austin.

“He was open-minded. He never put anyone down,” said another of the teenagers at the accident site.

“He knew a wide range of students, and many students considered him a friend. He was known across the school,” said Madison High School psychologist Judy Herzog.

STUDENTS AT MADISON came back to classes Tuesday after the three-day Columbus Day weekend to face a trio of stressful events: Haden’s death on Monday morning, the first possible sniper shooting in Fairfax County on Monday night, and the SAT test for seniors and some juniors on Tuesday.

Herzog said a crisis team would be at the school through Thursday. It is part of a revolving crisis team that the school system puts into place when needed, she said. They will meet with students individually and in classrooms along with Madison’s psychologist and social worker.

When asked what parents should say to their children to calm their fears, Herzog said parents should talk to their children about the sniper attacks and share with them their own feelings. She said they should “discuss with them as much as the child knows about it“ without going beyond the child’s level of understanding.

“If [the parents] are feeling fear and sadness, it is healthy to share healthy normal feelings. If it goes beyond their ability to cope, then the parent should try to get help,” she said.

“Parents should tell their children they are doing everything they can to keep the child safe,” she said. “It is best to stay with routine as much as you possibly can.”

Asked what Madison families could do to support the Hadens, she suggested “not just this month, but in the coming months and through the holidays, to remember the Haden family. “In the months ahead,” she said, such gestures “would probably be so comforting to them.”

“I SIGNED UP FOR MADD today,” said Phil Rappoport, who lives in a nearby neighborhood, Bridges of Oakton. He visited the scene Monday with his young son, age 10. “I wanted him to see two things: how unsafe the road is and why we drive very slowly around that turn, and what happens when people aren’t necessarily driving as safely as they can,” said Rappoport.

“I am not a mother, [but] I am furious and I want to do something about it. As a parent, you just hope that other parents talk to their children not once, but many times, about how driving could be dangerous,” he said.

“The road is not wide enough. It is unmarked. It is not lighted. There are no guard rails. My understanding is that the area [near the accident] is near Difficult Run, and that is owned by the county. So why doesn’t the county direct VDOT to widen the road?

“I have asked several officials: what does it take for us to build a safer road?” Rappoport said. “A fatality? Those were the words I have used.”

Last summer, rip-rap was put down on the south side of Stuart Mill Road, which runs south and parallel to Lawyers Road from Birdfoot Lane until it intersects with Fox Mill Road near the Reston Parkway.

“It is a beautiful area; it’s rural; it’s wooded,” said Rappoport.

“But if the county is going to encourage development of new homes along a road like Stuart Mill, they have to step up and strengthen the infrastructure to support increased traffic,” he said. Stuart Road offers the only access to his neighborhood, he said.

“There have been several accidents along Stuart Mill Road since 1996,” Rappoport said “The sight lines are poor. VDOT repaved the road. That’s good.

“They put in rip-rap to provide more room on the shoulder, and they double-striped from Bridge Hill Lane to Fox Mill Road. But they apparently suspended their efforts approximately six weeks ago on the stretch from Bridge Hill Lane to Birdfoot. Why? Did they run out of money? Did they run out of paint?”

“The county points to the state, but I think the county has some responsibility as well,” said Rappoport.

“They should be able to widen the road and shore up this treacherous stretch.”

Local residents refer to that stretch of Stuart Mill as “thrill hill,” said Rappoport. “Essentially, it is a recreational area for ‘hill-topping,’” also known in the lexicon of teenagers as “popping the hills.”

“I would love to see the police set up sobriety and safety checkpoints on weekends along this stretch of road,” he said.

“This accident is so tragic in many ways. We in the community should not let Chris become a statistic.

“My heart goes out to his family."