Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The image is horrifying so we should never forget

This is the picture. It's the one I see in my mind when I really don’t want to, the one that will always be there and never go away.

It’s the car the driver drove, while talking on her cell phone, that hit my son, who was pedaling his bicycle home from work, that amputated his leg and killed him.

His name is Devin.

I’m not really sure how long he lived after he was hit, as the driver kept driving with him on the car for 800 feet and didn’t stop for three-quarters of a mile, and didn’t call 911 until … when? 

According to her police statement, she was on the phone. Her phone records show there were three calls to or from her boyfriend at 12:34 a.m., 12:35 a.m. and 12:45 a.m. She told police the crash happened shortly after the first phone call. She said she heard someone say, “Hello,” then she closed her eyes for a long blink and heard a bang.

If the crash happened shortly after the first phone call, that means it happened after 12:34 a.m. but before 12:35 a.m. The last phone call at 12:45 a.m. lasted one minute and nine seconds, and then she made the 911 call.

Did Devin lay dying in the road for 11 minutes before she finished the third call and then called 911?

Why do I think about this stuff?

This is the car that hit my son and killed him. I don’t have to point out the passenger side is crushed in, do I?

Dear God, why do I recreate this moment in my mind?

He’s pedaling down the road of Highway H after leaving work at the Renaissance Faire. He was in a well-lit area, with light from two factories pouring onto the road. The accident reconstruction said the driver should have had 4.7 seconds to see him, react and avoid the collision. But she’s on the phone, dear God, and she’s closing her eyes! I want to be there. I want to scream at her: “Open your eyes and drive! Hang up and drive! Look at the road in front of you!”

Devin is pedaling, oblivious to his pending death, unaware he only has seconds or minutes to live. No idea his life ends at age 21.

Why does she not see him?!?!? Why does she not stop???? 

4.7 seconds.

She hears someone say hello.

She closes her eyes.

One second ... two seconds ...

He’s pedaling.

Three seconds ...

The headlights blind him. 

Four seconds ...

There is nowhere to go.

She hits him. Dear God, she hits him. 

Terror explodes in his brain as the fender makes contact with the bike and it begins to crumple. His leg is torn from his body. Does he feel it?

He hits the hood. He’s thinking, “What the hell … ”

She doesn’t stop. She keeps driving. Oh God, the blood. He’s slammed into the windshield. His back is broken. His arm is mangled. His neck is snapped. Look at the dent in the roof! She keeps driving. He finally falls off after 800 feet. She keeps driving! She doesn't hit the brakes. She doesn’t stop until she comes to the intersection of Highway H and 165 three-quarters of a mile away.

And she finally calls 911 at the same exact time two of Devin’s friends drive up and see his body. They know it is their friend, and a moment later another driver sees Devin's shoe, and the bike, and this driver knows something is wrong, something is terribly wrong, and this driver slows down and she calls 911, too.

And the driver, now that she has stopped, she calls 911 at the same time.

Within minutes there are paramedics and cops and they talk to the driver. The paramedic picks up Devin’s back pack, lying in a ditch, parallel to her car. If she hit him three-quarters of a mile away, how in the hell did the back pack end up there?

So many questions, so many fucking questions.

The paramedic finally realizes there is a human being lying in the road. His name is Devin.

And now he’s dead.

Look at the car. 

Now tell me you can drive safely while talking on a cell phone.

How many more people have to die? How many more people have to cry? How many more people are left to plaintively ask, “Why? Why? Why?”

Please, in honor of my son, share this story on your Facebook page. E-mail it to your friends. Post it on your refrigerator. Read it to your kids before you give them the car keys. And when you are in your car and your phone rings, just leave it alone.

In honor of my son, save a life. Hang up and drive.

His name was Devin.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Dear God, people, hang up your damn phones and save a life!

Thirteen months and 23 days after my son was killed, I sat across the table from a GEICO employee who wanted to hear about Devin.

I didn't plan to cry. But I didn't plan on my son getting killed by a driver on a cell phone on Aug. 7, 2011, while riding his bicycle home from work, either.

We already lived through months of agonizing preparation for a criminal trial on negligent homicide, only to see the D.A. drop the charges and instead issue a ticket for inattentive driving. The 18-year-old driver paid a fine of $100. But now -- finally -- it seemed, GEICO wanted to do the right thing. This isn't about money for us. It's never been about money. It's certainly not about hitting the one-armed bandit jackpot. It was simply about the principle of respecting human life, and paying what they were accountable to pay, so we could find a way to honor Devin and use that money to save other lives. It was just so someone on the other side of this would say, "Yes, human life matters."

This is what human life looks like:

Devin and his friend, Annie Moore-Richter.

Devin and I at the Motley Crue concert.

And what photos do we have left to take now? Photos like this:

Does it really need a caption?

 That is the face -- and the gravestone -- of distracted driving.

I'd trade every penny they offered and every nickel in my bank account to reverse time so we weren't in this position, just so I didn't have to go over the collision everyday in my head, or remember the gut-wrenching wail my wife made when I called her on the phone to give her the news.

The tears poured down my face as I told GEICO about Devin and how he talked three people out of committing suicide. I talked about the Devin who loved animals and helping people that others would just ignore. I talked about the Devin who was going to school and wanted a degree in criminal justice. And I talked about the Devin who was watching our dogs for us that night, and was pedaling home to take care of them, when he was hit from behind, and the driver kept going.

She could have stopped. Most people do when they hit a squirrel that darts in the street. But she carried Devin on her car for 800 feet before he fell off. The police took fibers from his shirt out of the windshield. She didn't hit the brakes and she didn't stop for three-quarters of a mile. In addition to myriad other injuries, she amputated his left leg and foot.

And so here we were 13 months and 23 days later and GEICO indicated they wanted to do the right thing. They said they would when they called us a day after the accident. And now, we could use that money to do something big in Devin's name for the rest of our lives, so we could save lives. If we can use that money to change minds, change laws and get people to hang up their cell phones while driving, then maybe his death would not be in vain.  Maybe, finally, after initially offering us $50,000 for our troubles, they would see that.

But let's be honest. Cute, animated lizards that cost millions of dollars to make and advertise aside, GEICO is a business. They don't care about me. They don't care about my tears. They don't care about my family's pain as we relive this everyday in our heads.

"We are sorry," the GEICO employee said.

Then they came back and said, "No, we weren't really interested in settling at all." Even though they asked for the mediation so it wouldn't go to trial, it was just another game, another chance to rip off scabs, another big letdown.

That means we have to go forward with a lawsuit, put one foot in front of the other, and continue taking one breath, one step, one moment at a time. While they will go forward to look after their bottom line and not paying the insurance the driver paid for, they will also have to indefensibly defend distracted driving, while most insurance companies, many politicians and everyday people are starting to see it more clearly all the time. You don't have to take my word for it. You only need to go to www.focusdriven.orgwww.distraction.gov, or www.orange4owen.org . Or I could just save you the trouble. Thousands have died due to distracted driving -- people using cell phones to talk or text, or people changing songs on iPhones. People like Devin, Heather, Brian and Owen, and so many more. Drivers on cell phones -- even hands-free devices -- are 4X more likely to be in an accident within five minutes of making or taking a call. Texters are 23X more likely. People with a .08 blood alcohol level drive better than cell phone drivers. There are more than 30 tests to back it up, and thousands of deaths to drive home the point. Yet we still see people everyday driving on small roads and interstates with a phone stuck to their ear. You can usually tell because they are driving slower than everyone else, or they are swerving. They think they can do it better than everyone else. They can't. And it's only a matter of time before they kill themselves or someone else.

I know there are some who will try to justify what has happened. The defense attorney was pretty good at coming up with half-truths, outright lies and exaggerations. But the facts speak for themselves:

- The road was not dark and foggy like the defense attorney said. Three cops, a paramedic and a civilian who drove up and saw my son's shoe in the road before calling 911 said there was no fog.
- He was in a well-lit area, bathed in light from factories on both sides.
- She told police she was on the phone when the crash happened. She said she heard someone say, "Hello," she took a long blink, then heard a bang.
- Because there were no brakes, there were no skid marks, so there was no way to determine her exact speed. She said 35 mph, but the coroner said it was a high-speed impact of about 50 mph.
- She told police she was blind in her left eye and not wearing her prescription glasses, which her boyfriend said she had to wear all the time.
- She told police she had three phone calls that night and the crash happened shortly after the first call. She had phone calls at 12:34 a.m., 12:35 a.m., and 12:45 a.m. She called 911 at 12:46 a.m.
- And finally, the state accident reconstruction report said she should have realistically had 4.7 seconds to see Devin and avoid the accident. Most cell phone studies say people who use cell phones while driving tend to look down for 4 to 5 seconds.

I'm not telling you this to damn the driver. I've been praying and trying to forgive her. God knows I have. I'm telling you this because I don't want anyone to make excuses or try to justify driving with a cell phone. Make no mistake: A driver on a cell phone killed my son.

I pray and look forward to the day she will reach out to us and apologize, and maybe even join our cause so we can save lives together. 

So let GEICO do what it thinks it must do. We will do what we must do. We will go forward. We will tell Devin's story again and again. We will cry again and again so others don't have to. We will talk to politicans, schools and civic groups. We will change minds. We will save lives. This is how it starts:

Door magnet

Bumper sticker
Bumper sticker 2.
How does it end? You write the end of the story. Devin is dead. He's never coming back. I would hate for any family to live through our ordeal. I would hate for any driver to have to live with this. Don't wait until you see the bumper stickers. For Devin, Brian, Heather, Owen and so many other families who have lost loved ones, do the right thing. For the love of God almighty, please save a life. Hang up your damn phone and drive.