District must pay damages in driver’s ed death

KETCHUM, Idaho — A jury decided that an Idaho school district must pay $3.5 million in damages to the family of a 15-year-old Idaho boy who died in a crash during his driver’s education class.

Jurors deliberated for only about 90 minutes Wednesday evening before finding Carey School driver education instructor Jeffrey Mecham 100 percent responsible for the Oct. 26, 2010, crash that killed Austin Hennefer in Blaine County, the Idaho Mountain Express reported Friday.

Dennis and Maryann Hennefer, of Carey, filed the lawsuit against Mecham’s employer, the Blaine County School District, contending it should be held responsible for Mecham’s “willful and reckless” decision to hold classes that day and practice three-point turns on an icy highway.

Mecham was initially named as a defendant but later removed from the lawsuit as an individual before the six-day trial.

The school district’s insurance carrier is responsible for paying the damages because Mecham was a school employee, Blaine County School District business manager Mike Chatterton said.

The policy does not have a deductible.

The driver’s education car was performing a maneuver used to make a 180-degree turn on a road that’s otherwise too narrow for a U-turn when it was struck by an oncoming car, the lawsuit said.

The accident occurred on U.S. Highway 20 about two miles west of State Highway 75, an area known by locals as Timmerman Junction.

Hennefer died at the scene of the crash, and classmate Jennifer Mares, 15, of Picabo, was airlifted to a hospital with a broken hip that required surgery.

Mecham, who was 41 at the time of the accident, also was seriously injured and was flown to a Boise hospital.

Sergio Lopez-Rodriguez, of Gooding, the driver of the other car, was also flown to the hospital for treatment. Jurors found he was not negligent in the crash.

Jurors also found Austin Hennefer was not negligent in operating the vehicle.

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