With a quiet but steady voice, wearing a blue and white neck brace and a black T-shirt with a large "D" on the front, Leslee Henson spoke to a full auditorium of friends and students at Springville High School on Wednesday about an issue that is important to her, one that ultimately changed her life. Henson's presentation "Park the Phone Before You Drive," is part of a distracted driving campaign that she, and her daughter Haley Warner, is taking to students across the state during April, which is Distracted Driving Awareness Month.
Henson shared with students how she and her husband, Dave, long-time residents of Springville and Provo, were involved in an auto-pedestrian accident near a bridge that crosses the Santa Clara River on March 4 in St. George.
The Henson's were out for a morning walk when, according to witnesses, Carla Brennan, the driver of a Toyota Celica, was looking down and using a cell phone, and rear-ended a Subaru near the bridge. The Subaru lost control and ended up on the sidewalk, striking the Hensons from behind.
"Dave was taken by Life Flight to Dixie Regional but died en route," said Henson. "I was taken to Dixie Regional and then taken to Utah Valley Regional Medical Center by Life Flight. I was in critical condition and ended up with broken bones in my neck and back, a separated shoulder, detached eye nerves, my scalp was torn and I had bleeding on the brain. From the waist down I had road rash and other injuries."
Henson spent 15 days in the hospital, had 5,000 stitches and staples to repair her head and underwent a lot of physical therapy.
"One of my doctors talked to me and told me that it was a miracle that I was still here and that I had recovered," said Henson. "He told me not to waste my time focusing on the what if's, but told me to focus on the what now's."
And the what now's have included finding something positive that the family can focus on as they share the campaign to end distracted driving in Utah.
"This is a good thing," said Henson. "We want to focus on something good and if we can save one life, it is worth it. Dave would be loving what we are doing, I'm sure. I know he would be happy that we are doing something to help others."
"This is the hardest thing I have had to go through in my life is seeing my friend go through this," said Kaye Nelson, co-presenter and friend of the Henson Family.
Facts about distracted driving were shared with students, including a personal story by the current Miss Springville/Mapleton, Madison Tormey, whose platform is "The Dangers of Distracted Driving."
"I got a ticket for distracted driving two months ago," said Tormey. "I was on my way to St. George and was talking into my phone returning a text to my mom. The police officer who pulled me over said I was distracted and could've caused a lot of problems. I was given a $450 fine. This is something that everyone needs to take seriously. I now stick my phone in my console and if I need to talk to someone, I pull over."
Text messaging while driving is illegal in Utah and can come with some pretty big fines. If you are caught texting and driving you can be fined up to $750. If you cause an accident while texting, you can pay a fine up to $1,000 and spend six months in jail. And if you cause a death while texting, you can be fined $10,000 and spend up to 15 years in jail.
Earlier this year, a law was passed that prohibits drivers under the age of 18 from using a cell phone while driving.
Distracted driving is something that one Springville student who attended the presentation, wishes that everyone would take more seriously. Alejandra Nunoz, a senior at SHS, said that safe driving is something her parents have always told her was a rule as part of driving a car.
"This assembly is a bonus because driving as teenagers is something we need to take super seriously," said Nunoz. "A lot of my friends don't care about driving distracted and there have been plenty of times where I have to be serious and tell them to put the phone away or offer to make a text for them. I have a lot of anxiety when I drive or ride with friends. My parents have encouraged me to be safe, not only for me, but for others. To me distracted driving is a big problem."
After hearing Henson's story, Nunoz said she was even more impacted and wants to help spread the word.
"Hearing this story really opened my eyes," said Nunoz. "To see the emotions makes it more real. It is a lot different than just reading it in the newspaper. It really makes me realize it isn't worth the risk. This isn't something I want to go through or that I want anyone else to go through."
At the end of the presentation, Henson asked the students to sign pledge cards, pledging to not drive distracted. Henson and Warner will then be taking the cards to local legislators with their story in hopes that stricter laws will be put in place and that eventually Utah will become a hands-free state, joining ten other states and Washington, D.C. Henson and Warner have also set up a petition online where people can sign their names for a hands-free law.
"Driving distracted is something that we need to be talking about all the time," said Warner. "Everyone agrees and knows that it is dangerous, but people still drive distracted. This will continue to be a constant battle to educate people, but it is something that is good for us and has helped us. To do this in my dad's name is something he would be happy about."
For more information about the campaign, visit www.stopthetextsstopthewrecks.blogspot.com