ST. GEORGE — A Santa Clara woman who lost her father earlier this year in a distracted-driving hit-and-run accident has started a campaign to inform Utah residents of the dangers of text messaging and driving.
David Henson was killed March 5 when a vehicle rear-ended another vehicle, causing the second vehicle to veer off the roadway. The second vehicle struck Henson and his wife, Leslee Henson, who were walking on the sidewalk at the time. Henson shielded his wife from the car and bore the brunt of the impact.
The driver of the first vehicle is believed to have been text messaging at the time of the accident.
The 56-year-old man was flown to Dixie Regional Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead. His wife, also 56, spent weeks in a Salt Lake City hospital recovering from her injuries.
She had "broken neck, broken back, separated shoulder and several other injuries including over 5000 stitches and staples in and on her head," according to Haley Warner, the couple's daughter, who posted the information on the blog Stop the Texts. Stop the Wrecks.
"I lost my dad, and he was my best friend, and it really sucks," Warner told KSL. "I have kids, and I have neighbors and friends and family who I love, and I don't ever want this to happen to them. I would never want this to happen again."
Warner said she was sitting with her family in the hospital when inspiration struck: With all the safety campaigns focused on wearing seatbelts, why wasn't there one to warn about the dangers of text messaging?
"You have a lot of time to think when you're sitting in the hospital, mourning," Warner said. "We just thought, this is such a sad accident, and it's so sad it has to do with one text. Someone can get killed from one text, from looking down for just a few seconds."
The family asked themselves how what they could change, and decided raising awareness that texting while driving is illegal in Utah and dangerous would be the best approach. They began scheduling talks at Washington County high schools to warn of the dangers of texting while driving, ending the presentations by having the students sign a pledge to obey the law.
It was when Warner pulled into a bank parking lot sometime in April that she had an even bigger idea: Why not put signs up in parking lots throughout the state to warn people not to text and drive? The signs would be similar to the "Click It or Ticket" campaign popularized by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The family organized a golfing tournament to raise money for the signs and began selling bumper stickers and T-shirts. Warner worked with the St. George Police Department and the city attorney to get the city's support. She helped design the signs with Officer Chris Randall, who was already working on developing a distracted driving campaign.
The money from the golf tournament and T-shirt sales helped pay for the signs, and some schools paid for the signs for their own parking lots. Right now, most elementary and secondary schools in Ivins and Santa Clara have put signs up. Schools in St. George will likely get the signs in fall. Warner said about 100 signs have been placed so far.
You have a lot of time to think when you're sitting in the hospital, mourning.
"I want to get them up north and throughout the state," she said. "Obviously, it's just getting them here because I'm here, but we would love to get them up all over. Everyone needs reminders, not just St. George residents."
Warner wants to see the signs in businesses, too. She said Dixie Regional Medical Center has put them up, and a few local businesses, as well. Anyone who wants one should be able to get one, she said.
"We're just trying to cause good habits," she said. "It's not going to kill you to go 15 minutes without your phone."
It's a lasting reminder of the man she was so close to, and who she feels is helping to move the project forward.
"I was so close to him, and I just couldn't go on knowing that he died from this and not change something, or help change the way people drive," she said. "It feels good to do something positive when you're going through something hard. I think it helps the days go by. It helps you get out of bed to know you've got something positive to work toward."