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Driving to Distraction

Spoiler Alert: I promised more articles on life and technology. This one is not an easy story to read, so you may want to skip it, or you may want to share with anyone tempted to use their phone in the driver’s seat, even for a moment.

This past weekend, a texting truck driver in Texas killed 13 people.

It’s time to post this letter, which I have written to Erica Stark.

Dear Erica, I never had the chance to meet you. I wish I did.

I met your whole family. I’ve been to your house. I’ve met your husband, your mom, your sister, and your three, beautiful boys.

You see, it was my friend, Lynne, who found you on that terrible November day. One moment you were standing on the sidewalk with the dog you were training. The next moment a minivan careened off the road and onto the sidewalk, smashed into a TTC pole, knocked a traffic control box off its cement mooring and struck you so hard, that you flew through the air.

My friend had been out for lunch and was driving back to work at Scarborough General, when she came across the accident scene, and saw you lying in the intersection.

There you were - two strangers. Lynne was desperately saying anything she could to let you know you were not alone. You were unable to speak. Lynne kept talking to you and comforted you, as you left this world.

Lynne started crying when she told me. ‘ Something has happened... Erica was 42... Erica was a Mom to three boys... Erica was just walking her dog...’ I tried to understand Lynne’s outbursts drenched by the tears flowing down her face.

Weeks later, Lynne and I went to your home to visit with your family.

I will never forget that day. We walked in with trepidation, and there you were, gone, and yet every moment and memory of you was still there. Your family pulled out all the stops to make us feel welcome. I imagine they learned such grace from you. We were surrounded by all that you loved in your home - your husband, your sister, your Mom, and your three brave boys. We saw your bright kitchen where you cooked and baked for your family. We saw your living room, where you laughed and shared and made plans. We ate lunch at your table in the backyard. We saw your writing on the black board of all the future events in your family's life. We watched the video your husband made for your 40th birthday and we heard about all of your amazing trips. We patted the black lab, Zella, you were walking when you were struck. We learned that you were the neighbourhood champion for safer roads.

While your boys played in the park, we talked with your mom, your husband and your sister, about your last day here. You had taken your car to your local garage to put snow tires on for the winter. You waited for your car to be ready, and you took your black lab for a walk, the dog you were training to be a service animal. And then you were struck.

This past December, I read in the Globe that the driver who collided with you on that Toronto sidewalk was fined $1000 and given six months of probation. Apparently, the driver did not take the stand and the defense gave no explanation, as to why the minivan was so out of control. The article said there was no proof the driver was using a phone while driving, as the driver refused to release the cell phone records. I wonder what distracted the driver? Was the phone a possibility?

Erica, I wonder if you know what caused that driver to veer onto the sidewalk, and collide with you so hard, that you died so quickly. Was the driver texting or on the phone? Was the driver in a rush? Was the driver distracted about work? Where were the driver’s eyes, if not on the road?

Your youngest son, Matthew told us what he missed most about you was your crepes, your Mac’n’Cheese, your hugs, and your voice. Your voice is gone, but I imagine what you would say, if you could.

Hello, world, It’s Erica. :) You don’t need a phone to get this message. If you are driving, put your phone away and turn it off. If you are in a rush, slow down and get there safely. If you are late, don’t push past a stranger, but stop and smile. If you are visiting with friends or family, put your phone away and be present. If you are distracted with work, leave your work at the office, and focus on what is important. How urgent could that one text or email be. Look up and see the world. Take care of each other. Life is short.

We are all connected.

Until we are not.

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