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RIVERTON — On Valentine's Day, most people are looking forward to bringing loved ones flowers, but one Utah family buys flowers for another reason — to put on the grave of their son Bryson Hathaway, who died in a car crash on Feb. 14, 2018.
Hathaway, then a 17-year-old Herriman High School athlete, crashed into the back of a school bus in Riverton and died at the scene. Police said speed was a factor in the crash and distracted driving likely played a role as well.
Now, one year later, his family wants to warn people about the danger and impact of distracted driving.
"I just think that there has to be thought before somebody picks up the phone, or takes a bite out of a burger," said Chris Hathaway, Bryson Hathaway's father, Wednesday at a news conference at Unified fire station in Riverton. "I'm never able to tell my kid I love him again, and that's something I miss very much."
For the last four years on Valentine's Day there has been a fatal traffic accident in Utah — a trend Utah Highway Patrol Lt. Danny Allen said has nothing to do with the holiday.
"There's nothing wrong with that day," he said. "It's every day we worry about those people on the road. And if you're safe, if you're being a safe driver, it's going to make it safer for everyone else around you, the other drivers. Be courteous, be patient, plan ahead. It'll just be a better place for everybody."
Allen is also Bryson Hathaway's uncle. He said the family wants people to know what a good person his nephew was.
"To know Bryson was to love him," he said. "We just want everybody to understand what kind of a young man he was. He should be here and he's not, and that breaks my heart."
Allen said this past year was painful for the family — something he said he doesn't want other Utah families to experience.
"Part of why we're doing this is to prevent future families from having to suffer through that," he said. "Safety, it really is something you have to take into your own hands. There's only so much law enforcement can do … It's the person behind the wheel that has to remain focused, be vigilant and understand what's going on around them."
Educating people about the dangers of distracted driving and continuing his son's legacy is important to Hathaway.
"He was a loving, caring person that put other people in front of himself," he said. "I think we're all going to miss out on a lot of years that Bryson would've made a huge difference of in this world."
Distracted driving is something that affects all drivers, according to John Gleason, Utah Department of Transportation public information officer.
"Distracted driving is probably the biggest challenge that we face on our roads going forward here," he said. "Because not everyone drinks, certainly not everyone drinks and drives, and not everyone's an aggressive driver — but we're all distracted, we all have to deal with cellphones."
Gleason said there's nothing that links the Valentine's Day road fatalities together, other than the day that it happened on.
These types of car accidents, where distracted driving played a role, are completely preventable, said Herriman City Police Lt. Cody Stromberg.
"We've got to do a better job at preventing these types of crashes and tragedies that are totally within human control," he said.
Distracted driving is probably the biggest challenge that we face on our roads going forward here. Because not everyone drinks, certainly not everyone drinks and drives, and not everyone's an aggressive driver — but we're all distracted, we all have to deal with cellphones.
–John Gleason, Utah Department of Transportation
Stromberg, who knew Bryson and the Hathaway family well, was a sergeant with Unified police at the time of the crash last year and was the first responder to the scene. It's something he said will stay with him forever.
"There was an immediate emotional personal connection to the tragedy that occurred that day," he said. "As a law enforcement officer, there are several cases that you can look back on in your career and identify things that truly affected you as a human being, both emotionally, physically, and really kind of cut you to the core, and that was definitely one of those days for me."
Not all distracted driving leads to tragedy, Allen said, but often it's closer than people think.
"How many times have each of us gotten lucky?" Allen asked. "We get lucky a lot. We're very close to a serious accident and we don't even realize it. And then there's those that mess up one time and it literally costs them everything. This year's been hard on our family. We want to share a message that it's preventable."
For Chris Hathaway, he just wants his son back.
"I wish more than anything my son was still here," he said.