Straight Talk panelists co-author motorcycle safety law

Straight Talk column
By: Lauren Forcella
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Dear Readers: Last school year, two teenage panelists from Straight Talk wanted to make the world a better place. Michael Kelleher and Sawyer Cole took their idea to the Capitol and stood persistently in front of lawmakers until it passed. “Jarrad’s Law” goes into effect Sunday. It requires anyone under 21 who wants a motorcycle permit in California to take an on-bike motorcycle training course. Before this, any 15 1/2-year-old could ride after just passing a written test. No training or proof of competency was required. Some readers know the tragedy that motivated Michael and Sawyer. In August, 2007, my son, Jarrad Cole, was heading to college and wanted a bike. He got his motorcycle permit and bought a used Suzuki GSX-R. Twenty minutes later, practicing in front of his dad’s house, he was thrown into a retaining wall and died instantly from chest injuries. Sawyer is Jarrad’s younger brother — and another of my sons. Michael is a close friend. You can imagine how upside down everyone was. It was right before Sawyer and Michael’s sophomore year and they were especially hard hit. In fact, Sawyer’s total devastation helped me keep some of my own wits. I welcome Jarrad’s Law as a lifesaver that other states will emulate. And I offer Sawyer and Michael’s story as a lifesaving example of how two teenagers dusted themselves off, stood up straight and walked through the eye of their pain. More than personal gumption was involved, though, and I can’t speak loud enough for the power of a competent counselor, good friends, caring teachers and loving family. May we all lend a hand to those in need so they can lend their own hands. Happy New Year! ~ Lauren Michael Kelleher, 18, Los Angeles (formerly Fair Oaks): Going to the Capitol as many times as we did and changing something that needed to be changed, with people actually listening to a couple of teenagers, was amazing. You grow up hearing that “you can do anything” in this country; that it was created “by the people.” But to actually live that was awe-inspiring in a patriotic way. People make a big deal out of our accomplishment, but for us, it was about confronting our pain. The hopelessness I felt around losing Jarrad felt so fundamentally permanent. But then to figure something out from this place of being totally stuck was amazing. It wasn’t conscious at the time, but looking back, I’d say that being stuck in the mud for awhile is important because it gives you time to think and feel. But you can’t stay there forever. You have the choice to open doors or to close doors, and we decided to open them. Sawyer Cole, 19, San Pedro (formerly Fair Oaks): After Jarrad’s death, I could find no positive reaction or positive emotion anywhere. For over a year, I couldn’t talk about my feelings — or even feel them. I refused counseling adamantly. Finally, my parents forced me to go and I did weekly counseling for eight months. It really got me back on my feet. Senior year started and Michael had the idea to change the law on motorcycle permits. By then, I was in good enough shape to take this on. This final step gives things positive closure. It feels like a giving back. Now when I think of what happened, something positive is there. To anyone suffering, find a counselor you like and who you can’t fool. Stick with him. In addition, find something to do that’s meaningful and do it regularly. Don’t sit on the bad feelings and let them grow inside. It’s tough to experience them and deal with them but it’s the only way feelings get better. For more discussion, to ask a question, or inquire about being a youth panelist, visit or write P.O. Box 963 Fair Oaks, CA 95628. More from Lauren Forcella: Nobody wants to feel the feelings that go with tragedy, loss, violation or adversity but these are the feelings of those items, much as we wish they weren’t. Without counseling and positive action, such feelings can be so overwhelming that it is easy to fall prey to depression, drugs, alcohol and other addictions or risky behaviors to keep them suppressed. I am as excited about sharing Sawyer and Michael’s healing experience as I am to announce the change in the law. ~ Lauren