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VERNAL — Grief counselors are on hand at Vernal Junior High School after a classmate died in what police say was a case of texting and driving.
Senseless and shocking.
Those were the words Kathy Hawkins used Monday to describe the Labor Day weekend crash that killed Tommy Clark.
"He was a good kid, a happy kid," said Hawkins, the principal at Vernal Junior High School where Clark was a ninth grader. "I'm heartbroken."
Clark and a friend were walking Sunday about 9 p.m. along 500 West near 1200 South when Clark was hit from behind by the driver of a pickup truck. The impact threw the 15-year-old about 40 feet through the air. He landed next to a barbed wire fence that separates a cow pasture from a roadside ditch.
Clark's friend escaped injury.
Jeffrey Lloyd Bascom, of Jensen, was driving the truck and told investigators he was texting at the time he struck Clark, said Assistant Vernal Police Chief Keith Campbell. Bascom's statement was consistent with the physical evidence at the scene, Campbell said.
Clark was taken by ambulance to Ashley Regional Medical Center, then transferred by helicopter to Primary Children's Medical Center. He was removed from life support Monday and died about 1:20 p.m., Campbell said.
Clark's death comes as teens around the Uintah Basin are being encouraged to swear off dangerous driving behaviors. Representatives from the TriCounty Health Department, two local radio stations and a number of businesses have been taking an old Volkswagen bus to football games, county fairs and other venues for kids to sign their names on the vehicle as a symbol of their commitment to safe driving.
He was a good kid, a happy kid. I'm heartbroken.
"They've made pledges not to drive stupid," said TriCounty Health spokeswoman Jeramie Tubbs, "which includes texting and driving, speeding, driving under the influence, not riding with anyone (who is) under the influence, wearing your seat belt; basic precautionary measures that every driver should take."
The pledge drive has seen great success, Tubbs said, with an estimated 1,000 signatures collected on the side of the VW bus over the course of the summer. But losing someone in a texting and driving crash makes that success bittersweet, she said.
"We would hope that (Clark's death) is an awakening moment for people to see the reality," Tubbs said. "That this is real and that this affects people in their own midst."
Bascom, 28, has not been arrested. A check of court records shows that he has a long history of traffic violations, including one conviction for alcohol-related reckless driving in 2008 and 10 citations for speeding since 2003. In three of those speeding cases Bascom was driving more than 30 mph above the posted speed limit, court records show.
Police say there was no evidence that alcohol was a factor in Sunday's crash and they have not yet determined how fast Bascom was driving when he hit Clark.
Bascom surrendered his cellphone to authorities and is cooperating with police, Campbell said.
Detectives are expected to present the results of their preliminary investigation to the Uintah County Attorney's Office as early as Tuesday, the assistant chief said.
"The charge could be filed as a second-degree felony," Campbell said, noting that such a charge carries a possible penalty of up to 15 years in prison and a maximum fine of $10,000.