I do not recall much about the morning of May 4, 2014, but what I do know is-- I was driving to work with no indication that my life was about to be forever changed. It takes seconds. Seconds of taking your eyes off the road to look down to respond to a text. I know I did. In the seconds it took to respond about the silly TV show that I had been watching, I hit a car with a trailer connected behind it with sheet metal coming straight at me through my windshield. I was lucky enough not to recall the actual collision, but what I do recall is the aftermath.
Fortunately I didn't have to see my friends and family grieving around me while I was fighting for my life in the midst of a coma--Begging, pleading, & praying over me to just wake. I woke from the coma days later, attached to a machine that was breathing for me with a broken neck, a brain injury & a dislocated elbow. Plenty of MRI's & CAT scans later, I transferred out of ICU & was brought to a rehabilitation hospital where I relearned to walk again, gained back my short term memory & came to the painful realization that I was going to have to fight long and hard to get my life back-- My life that I had always known as a hairdresser, a runner. Not this life of laying in a hospital bed, relying on someone for my every need.
Nevertheless, against all the odds, I was released home just after a month after the accident. Home to heal, home to finish my recovery and get back to the life that I was living prior to that haunting Sunday morning. Luckily no one in the car that I had hit was hurt nor injured, but what is bigger than all the pain that I had physically endured, was the mere thought that all of that could have been prevented if I would have just kept my eyes on the road, free from distraction. I am so thankful that I am here today, sharing my story with you in the hopes that it can save your life. In the hopes that this will have you not only thinking twice to not touch your phone while you are driving, but to put it away completely out of sight to save you from enduring any pain, any hurdle that I had to bare.
This is my hope, my plea.
I would like to introduce to you John and Marilyn Bachman. Married on July 20, 1991. This picture was taken November 28, 2013, Thanksgiving Day, 3 weeks, 3days to December 23, 2013 when my life, my family's lives and a multitude of friends lives changed forever....
John was an Electrical Engineer by profession, an entrepreneur, Fire Chief, baseball umpire and coach, master gardener, gourmet chef and my forever mate. We were living life.....
In the Spring of 2011, our kitchen was completely remodeled, the planning took 2 years prior because John wanted everything to his specs. This was to be his kitchen. I would watch as he prepared, he would say to me, “ darling, you just set there and look pretty for me.”
It was a Monday, December 23, 2013, 2 days before Christmas John was simply at the mailbox at the end of the driveway, no more than 35 feet from the front door..... the mailbox door was open, mail setting inside..... when he was struck and killed by a driver who was texting! Going to your mailbox should be uneventful. That day it was not!
John was lying on the other side of the snow bank, calling out for help. his moans were heard by me and I ran to him. Blood covered his face and was unable to move. In the emergency room, doctors and medical personnel worked with precision tostabilize his condition. I knew John was dying..... Massive internal injuries, spinal injuries,broken bones and head laceration.
We stared at each other knowing this was the end. Holding my hand John squeezed 2 time, this was our unspoken secret saying, “I love you.”
When Spring came and the snow was melting, I remember being terrified to see the bare ground where John laid in the snow months before.
I'm sure the driver at fault would make the decision to wait to communicate. What could be so pressing? Why risk taking your eyes off the road? If the driver had made a responsible decision not to pick up the phone, so many lives, today, would be so different.
Remember this: a life just ended because you couldn't wait! Put the phone down....
My father met me for lunch at Bennigan’s a few weeks before I made the biggest move of my life—to New York City—in the summer of 2003. It was that lunch with him, and one other, in the same restaurant, five days before he died, that I had to hold onto as I made my way in the big city. Because three months after it, he was gone.
My father worked in advertising and sales for most of his life, but writing was his true gift and passion. He said I was doing what he had always wanted to do, but that he’d settled down in Delaware and started a family instead. It always meant so much to me that I shared my father’s passion for the written word—he was my best editor, really. That’s why it is so difficult for me to sum him and his life up in words. And I certainly never thought I’d have to at such a young age.
Michael J. Carney (who usually went by “Mick”) was a father, a husband, a brother, a son, an uncle, a cousin and a nephew; a singer, a performer, a poet and a philosopher; an avid essayist; a comedian and a gifted impressionist; a sentimentalist and lover of literature; a sports fan and star high school athlete; a feminist—I attribute much of my self-esteem to the values he gave me; a teacher; a born leader, excellent communicator and generous coach—he always instructed my brother and me on the importance of fair play, of expressing yourself clearly and of being comfortable speaking in front of a room; a dreamer; a pop culture and trivia aficionado and a man of near-genius; a refined appreciator of the arts with impressive taste in films and music; a thinking, sensitive man; a talented and professional salesman; and, perhaps most importantly, a loyal friend. There were so many people who loved him, in fact, that at his funeral I couldn’t keep track of them all. At least half of them
I’d never met.
He was always either joking or singing, or telling you something incredibly profound. He had the biggest personality of anyone I’ve ever known, but was generous with his attention. What seemed to matter to him most in the world, at any given time, was that the people around him were comfortable and having fun.
Mick was born on April 6, 1949, in Claymont, Delaware, to Thomas and Mildred Carney, and was one of five brothers. He died at the age of 54 on August 8, 2003, in Limerick, PA.
According to “The Mercury,” a Montgomery County, PA, newspaper, at 1 p.m. that Friday, 17-year-old Bridget McCarthy “ran a red light in her Ford Excursion and crashed into the side of [Mick’s] Mercury Cougar as he was pulling forward to turn left onto Township Line Road.” The crash had several witnesses. A passenger behind my father saw McCarthy run the red light. As she watched my father pull out to make the left turn, the SUV “plowed right into him.” Many witnesses tried to help him, but he was pronounced dead shortly thereafter, according to police. Speed was not an issue. According to “The Mercury,” McCarthy’s Excursion “sustained little more than a small dent, but the Cougar was severely
damaged by the impact.”
McCarthy had her 15-year-old sister and 4-year-old brother in the SUV with her, both of whom were not injured. A month later, in court, seven witnesses came in, which the Montgomery County assistant district attorney said was unprecedented in his experience. All of them, the drivers behind my father’s car and the drivers behind McCarthy’s SUV on Route 422, said the light she’d driven through had been red. McCarthy took the stand and said tearfully that the light was red but had changed to green as she approached the intersection. In the end, the judge disagreed, and said there was no doubt in his mind that the light had been red, and she hadn’t seen it. The police officers who’d checked the functioning of the traffic light hadn’t been able to provide sufficient evidence that it might have malfunctioned.
So how could one person see a light as green while seven others (and likely also my father) saw red? Perhaps because that person was distracted by a cell phone.
The headline of the news story about the crash was “Teen Driver in Fatal Crash Cited for Talking on Cell Phone.” She was found guilty that day of running a red light and of careless driving—violations that each carried a $100 fine. Even before the hearing, witnesses had told authorities that they had seen McCarthy on her phone at the time of the crash. In court, McCarthy admitted to holding her cell phone but said she had not been using it at the time, that she’d had both hands on the wheel—her cell phone was in her right hand, she said, but that hand was on the wheel. Apparently, she had gotten lost while driving to a friend’s house and called the friend’s mother for directions after getting off Route 422. In 2003, Pennsylvania had no state law against talking on a cell phone while driving. So there was very little we could do. At the end of the hearing, the district attorney reminded everyone, “Someone died in this accident. The defendant is lucky that more serious charges weren’t filed.”
“Plowed…smashed…slammed…” Those were the words used in the newspaper to describe how my father died. Not words you really want to incorporate with the death of a loved one.
The last time I ever saw my dad was at another Bennigan’s lunch, about five days before the accident. I had come home with my new boyfriend and was excited about introducing him. That day he gave me a very big hug as we left the restaurant. It is an image that will always be in my brain because it was the last time it ever happened. Minutes before that, I’d overheard him telling my new boyfriend, “You seem like a nice young man.”
In that second-to-last Bennigan’s lunch, the one just before I moved to New York, my dad had said something weirdly prescient. He said he remembered how my grandmother used to sit in the middle of the room at holiday functions, holding the youngest child. And he told me he could see me someday doing the same thing.
It was an odd thing to say at the time….And I didn’t know how important this comment would be to me someday, after he was gone. Because he’ll never be there to see me sit in the middle of the room holding a child—my child or anyone else’s. And he won’t be there to see me when I walk down the aisle in May. He won’t be there to give me away to the “nice young man” he met 12 years ago. (It turns out he was right about that.)
The day of my father’s funeral, my brother clasped my hand as we walked down the nave of the church. We gave the only two eulogies. In my heart, I know that he is still guiding me. And I know he would want something to be done to help the victims of distracted driving. He had more to do in his life, when it was cut short. I know he’d want me to reach out to others who had to experience a sudden, senseless-seeming loss like this.
In the years immediately following his death, I worried that this experience was so unique that it would make me seem strange to my peers. I found that they didn’t know how to react when I told them about it. Now, I have very little concern about sharing it, but the reason for that is an unfortunate one—it’s because now I am one of MANY faces of distracted driving.
It is with a great deal of compassion for the victims of distracted driving that I tell my dad’s story. I have so many of these memories of him and life lessons from him that I’m compiling them into a collection of essays. My hope is that by seeing him as a real person, people will understand the true nature of this kind of loss. I also ran the New York City Marathon in 2015 in his honor, raising funds and awareness for EndDD.org. My dad always said I’d be a long-distance runner, and running has been very therapeutic for me in dealing with this loss—I just never knew there was a chance that doing so could save lives. Please visit my page on CrowdRise to help support the cause.