UPPER UWCHLAN - Universal Technical Institute officials and the township police recently joined forces to advise the incoming class of students of their expected conduct.
This class orientation marked the first time that Police Chief John DeMarco addressed the new students, and Supervisors' Chairman Charles Lobb was also present to say a few words.
Some students were locals from Exton, while others were from locations further away, such as Rochester, N.Y.
In recent months, the school has been beset by community and law enforcement complaints about the reckless driving habits and behavior of its students. By UTI's own admission, 16 percent of its students have been cited by local law enforcement for traffic infractions, and a further 10 percent have tested positive for drugs, mainly marijuana.
Also, two students have had two serious crashes since Jan. 1.
The first accident resulted in a fatality. On Jan. 30, UTI student Jean DeFague was reportedly speeding down Route 202 in Birmingham, according to police.
DeFague hit a car driven by Colin Fitzpatrick, 18, of Birmingham, who was pronounced dead at the scene. DeFague now faces third-degree murder charges.
This was followed on Feb. 16 by a serious accident on the Route 30 Bypass in Caln.
UTI student Mark Trevor Augustin, who police said was apparently speeding and possibly intoxicated, hit a vehicle operated by Bruce E. Jennings II, of Coatesville. Jennings suffered serious injuries, said police. The accident remains under investigation.
Some of the new students said they had heard rumors the township police have "picked" on UTI students and singled them out, while others worried DeMarco's officers wanted them to drive like "grandmas."
"There are more rumors than facts," said School Director Ken Lewandowski, referring to the reason for DeMarco's presence. "Who here enrolled with a decision to fail to be a success in the automotive industry?"
No one raised his hand after Lewandowski posited that question.
"If you want to succeed in the automotive industry, you will have to obey the student code of conduct, both on and off campus," he said. "If you don't have a good driving record, you can't get a job in the automotive industry."
DeMarco said he doesn't wake up in the morning scheming ways to harass UTI students because he has far more important things to do, such as keeping watch over his growing township.
"We live in a growing community that is more congested with traffic, a community where good values are important," DeMarco said. "We value good neighbors, family, and we are aware of what our other neighbors are doing."
He said the township takes pride in its historic character and enjoys having good times, but it expects certain rules of conduct from those who live and work in it.
"Half of the problem for a lot of people seems to be getting here," he said. "We have a lot of schools here, and you are not the only school - grade schools, a unique high school in the northern part of the township and a ton of other schools."
Echoing parental complaints about the UTI students' threat to the township's children, DeMarco asked the students how they would feel if their son, daughter, brother or sister or other relative were killed or injured by a reckless driver.
Additionally, DeMarco said issues such as loud pipes on their vehicles or causing trouble at the local Wawa were serious quality-of-life issues they needed to address.
DeMarco informed the students that UTI would be informed of any infraction they might commit, whether they are traffic violations, equipment violations or any other incident requiring his department's intervention.
"All of the students here will have to sign a waiver," Lewandowski said.
DeMarco said his department would take a zero-tolerance policy toward unruly students.
"People forget that driving is a privilege, not a right," he said. "Rights can't be taken away, but your privilege to drive can be taken away."
He said any student who engages in street racing would be liable to "find themselves in a cinder block room on a steel bed."
Lewandowski said UTI chose its current location because of its pleasant setting, but it was up to the students to help the school keep it that way.
"It is up to you to meet us halfway," Lewandowski said. "You have an opportunity to change your behavior, and you can't attend if you are not good to the entire community."