Stafford County

Their Friend Died in a Crash. Then These Teens Got a Law Passed to Protect Others

An obstructed view from overgrown vegetation was a contributing factor to the crash that killed Helen Wang in Stafford County, Virginia

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Helen Wang died on her 17th birthday. An accomplished swimmer at Colonial Forge High School, she was killed in May 2019 when a truck struck her car as she drove away from Lake Abel in Stafford County, Virginia.

An obstructed view from overgrown vegetation was a contributing factor to the crash.

The sudden death of this popular student brought a great sense of grief and sadness to the school.

"It changed us incredibly," said Wang's friend Rebecca Chung. "Those were hard days."

There were flowers and tears, but a group of her friends decided they wanted to do some thing more than mourn.

"We say it all the time: Death messed with the wrong one," Chung said.

So began the campaign for what has now become Helen's Law. It gives local governments the authority to clear overgrown vegetation that could become roadway hazards, instead of needing to go through the Virginia Department of Transportation.

The students actually wrote the bill and then lobbied to get it passed and finally signed by Gov. Ralph Northam.

"It is a tribute to Helen, but it's also a statement that you don't have to accept things the way they are," said student activist David Sousa.

For their work on this crusade, the students at Colonial Forge High School won a national Purpose Award last week from PR Week magazine.

But for Wang's friends, there is more to it than that.

"Her death was preventable," Chung said. "[We'll] never lose a friend like that again."

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