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Two Potomac Teens Killed

Just hours apart on Travilah Road, one killed by a hit-and-run driver, the other in a car crash.

The sun, when it reemerged Sunday following two straight days of rain, did nothing to lighten the darkness over Travilah Road.

In two spots on the north side of the road, mourners emerged from cars to lay flowers and keepsakes in front of roadside memorials. In two places, Potomac students cried for their missing classmates.

Two Montgomery County high school students died following separate, unrelated car accidents Friday just 4.6 miles apart on Travilah road.

Solomon J. King, 16, a student at Thomas Wootton High School, was struck by a car while walking on the shoulder of Travilah the shortly after 6 p.m. Friday evening, according to Montgomery County Police. Solomon was walking with two friends along the 14200 block of Travilah near his North Potomac home when a car drifted onto the shoulder, hit a mailbox and then struck him and grazed one his friends. It was rainy and dark when the accident occurred. The car did not stop at the scene. Solomon was taken to Suburban Hospital with and died the following morning.

"These three young men were walking appropriately, walking against traffic," Lucille Baur, a spokesperson for Montgomery County Police. "They were not doing anything wrong."

Police are still searching for the driver of the car that struck Solomon King. The car was described as possibly a dark-colored Honda with dark tinted windows.

Just hours later, Montgomery County Police responded to the report of a single car accident on the 12500 block of Travilah Road. A 1997 Jeep Grand Cherokee traveling westbound had slid off the wet road while rounding a curve and struck a tree. The driver of the car, Sarkis George Nazarian Jr., 16, a junior at Winston Churchill High School, died at the scene. His two passengers, classmates and friends Nicholas Hegedus, 16, and Scott Alexander Roof, 16, were treated at the scene with minor injuries.

Sarkis and his friends had been at a party at the home of a female classmate — a member of Churchill’s Pom Squad — at which alcohol had been served, according to police. The girl’s parents were out of the area when the party took place, according to police.

The girl's mother and father left her to stay with friends of the family while they were away, the father said. He said he thought their house was empty. The daughter told them that she was going to sleep over at a classmate's house and then was allowed to leave, the girl's father said.

"It was a big shock to us and it was a horrible tragedy for the people involved," he said.

It is unclear whether Sarkis had been drinking. "At the party he was at, alcohol was served, but whether he had consumed any alcohol — we have to wait for the medical examiners on that," said Officer Derek Baliles, on Tuesday.

Witnesses who talked to police said that the students involved in the crash had been drinking, but officially the case is only being classified as "alcohol related" pending toxicology reports.

Several friends reported that Sarkis was only at the party for a short time and that they did not see him have any drinks. “From listening to him and knowing him, I don’t think [he had been drinking],” said Kevin Krainson, a close friend of Sarkis’ since 6th grade. Kevin had talked to Sarkis just moments before the early-morning crash.

What is certain is that Sarkis was driving too fast for the wet conditions, according to police. "Vehicle was travelling at an excessive speed for the existing roadway conditions," the collision report reads, and Sarkis failed to negotiate a turn, slid off the road, skidded, and then hit the tree.

Several hours after the accident, police went to the home the where the party had taken place and issued 14 citations to teens under the age of 18. The teens who received the citations had gone to sleep at the house rather than drive away, police said.

"They let them in and did breathalyzers. There was no party going on when the police came. ... She did the right thing which is cooperate," the girl's father said.

The deaths come amidst an epidemic of pedestrian and teen driving deaths in Montgomery County. A Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School student was stuck by a car Sept. 21 and died the next day. Days later, five teens including a Blake High School student were killed in three crashes over the weekend of Sept. 25 and 26.

Montgomery County Police vowed to crack down on aggressive teen driving, drag racing, and driving under the influence of alcohol, but there is only so much that can be done by way of enforcement.

"This is not a situation that can be handled by any one person or organization. Having more police officers available, still police officers can't be everywhere all the time," Baur said. "The root of the problem needs to be attacked by parents and teens. Parents have a very difficult job parenting teenagers. ... Parents want to be trustful. They want their teenagers to grow up. ... However ... parents need to be responsible for knowing where their kids are, who they're with."

“I think there’s more that we must do when it comes to education,” said Maryland Del. Bill Bronrott (D-16), a longtime traffic and pedestrian safety advocate who represents parts of Potomac along with Bethesda and Chevy Chase. Alcohol kills six times more teens than all the other illicit drugs combined, Bronrott said, and is the number one cause of death and disabling injury among people under 30.

Bronrott has sponsored a bill that would prevent teenagers from having other, non-family teens as passengers in their cars during their first year of driving. The bill passed in the Maryland House of Delegates last year but failed in the Senate. Bronrott said he plans to reintroduce the legislation in January.

“We need to come up with new and innovative ways of engaging teens in this discussion. And I think parents need to speak out and lay down the law, with the law books backing them up.”

A community-wide meeting addressing the teen driving crisis was set to take place at Churchill Tuesday evening, after the Almanac’s  press deadline.

The mourners on Travilah Road on Sunday were back at Churchill and Wootton as students on Monday.

"It’s going to be rough. I have classes with [Sako] and that's when its going to hit me that he's not there," Kevin Krainson said, anticipating the difficult return to school. Grief counselors were on hand at both schools to help students cope with the tragedies.

While some community members have said that they anticipate anger and finger-pointing to resurface in response to the weekend's events, others say that the sad events are an opportunity to come together and more earnestly address problems that have killed far too many young people in recent months.

"I don't think it's placing blame," said a Churchill parent at the Nazarian home. "I think it's a search for answers. And we're going to have to dig where it hurts to find them."