Sonoma Stories: Santa Rosa teen wins contest, makes video he hopes will save lives

The coolest part of growing up?

Certain TV commercials suggest it comes when a kid graduates beyond playthings and is able to crank up a shiny, gorgeous, real car and drive it just as fast as he or she pleases.

A Santa Rosa teen returned Sunday from New York and Connecticut, and from producing a video with an alternate theme: Cars aren’t toys.

Pavel Karabelov, who’s 13, was flown to the East Coast after he won first place in a nationwide safe-driving contest. It’s clear to the eighth-grader at Rincon Valley Charter School that some car commercials that appeal to young people “make going fast seem like a good thing.”

But Pavel has seen the roadside memorials and the news accounts of tragic traffic crashes caused or contributed to by speeding.

He called upon his own childhood affection for toy cars and his observations of what can happen when motor vehicles are treated like toys when, months ago, he completed a homework assignment to prepare an entry to the Drive2Life PSA Contest.

Sponsored by the New York-based National Road Safety Foundation and distributed by the Scholastic publishing company, the contest challenges teens in grades six through 12 to devise a concept for a 30-second public service announcement that promotes safe driving behavior.

Pavel created his entry, “Cars Aren’t Toys,” at the behest of Rincon Valley Charter teacher Christopher Lister.

Pavel created a storyboard that has a child progressing, in stages, from playing with toy cars to obtaining a driver’s license and the key to what is too often regarded as the ultimate toy.

As a tyke, the boy makes speeding sounds as he crashes a tiny car into a wall. Next, he pedals a kiddie car and shouts, “Faster! Faster!” Next, in the build-up to actual driving, the boy operates a radio-controlled car and watches as it goes so fast it crashes.

Pavel turned in his storyboard last winter and pretty much forgot about it as he moved on to other interests. One of two children of Georgi and Gergana Karabelov, Pavel is a competitive swimmer and active kid who also savors dancing, reading and video games.

It surprised him, utterly so, to learn that organizers of the Drive2Life PSA Contest received 1,434 entries from across the U.S. and chose his as the best.

His concept “stood out from so many great ideas we received from throughout the country,” said Michelle Anderson of The National Road Safety Foundation. “His PSA reminds us to be responsible when we get behind the wheel, which is an important message for teens and adults alike.”

As his first-place prize, Pavel received $1,000 and an expenses-paid trip to New York and Connecticut to work with Emmy-winning producer Alan Weiss and create a public service announcement. In December 1980, some trivia masters might know, Weiss broke the story of the shooting death in New York City of John Lennon.

Pavel, his parents and his sister, Dohna, 12, made the East Coast trip last week.

The original concept of the video was to show a boy transitioning through four stages of life and from toys to a car. It was agreed Pavel would play the part of the boy as an adolescent, and his mother would appear in the final stage as the mom of a teenager eager at last to have some fun in a real car.

But an adjustment was made - to accommodate Dohna.

“She was dying to be in the production as well,” Gergana Karabelov said. So Pavel and Weiss did a rewrite; instead of making it appear that one boy was moving through childhood, the video shows several boys and a girl as one or another plays with toy cars and rides a kiddie car and ultimately takes the wheel of an automobile.

Pavel spoke by phone one day last week after he and Weiss edited the piece.

“We really brought my PSA to life through the editing process,” he said. “I’m personally very happy with the way it turned out.”

The National Road Safety Foundation is committed to having Pavel’s video aired on more than 150 TV stations across the country in May, which is Global Youth Traffic Safety Month.

In 2016, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, excessive speed contributed to crashes that killed 10,111 Americans.

Pavel would like to see that number come way down.

“I just want people to see this (video) and realize that what they’re doing could harm others,” he said. “Treating cars as toys is not a responsible or safe thing to do.”

You can reach Chris Smith is at 707-521-5211 and

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