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Presentation delivers strong message

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Students at New Richmond High School got a wakeup call when Jeanne and Katrina Brown visited the school on Thursday, Oct. 25.

Jeanne and Katrina are the mother and sister, respectively, of Alex Brown.

Alex Brown was killed in a single vehicle accident on Nov. 10, 2009, a result of texting and driving. She was a senior in high school at the time.

Since Alex's death, the Browns have traveled the country to spread the word about the dangers of distracted driving.

When Alex Brown didn't show up for class on Nov. 10, 2009, Jeanne Brown set out looking for her. Her truck was found in a field between their rural Wellman, Texas home and the school. Alex had been ejected from the vehicle through the passenger side window and was floating in and out of consciousness.

She was airlifted to a local hospital where surgeons worked for several hours to save her. Her pulse stopped several times.

"It was at that point I realized Alex would never go home with us again," Jeanne Brown said.

The highway patrolman who investigated Alex's death determined she was traveling at least 73 mph on the 60 mph road, and was texting four of her friends, Jeanne Brown said.

"She replied to the last text and she went off the road," she said. "Things happened so quickly that she didn't even have time to try and correct or respond to what was going on. She went off the road and was thrown around the cab of that truck like a rag doll.

"The truck rolled one time. See, one time is all it takes when you don't wear your seatbelt," she said.

As Alex's truck rolled, she was ejected and crushed as the truck continued to roll.

"No one is here to tell you not to text and drive. That's not my job. That's your decision. I'm just here to tell you some of the things we've learned so that you can figure things out for yourselves," she told the students.

Katrina Brown, Alex's younger sister, asked the crowd if anyone had siblings.

"A lot of y'all," she said. "I'm jealous of every single one of you because I don't have my sister anymore."

Katrina Brown shared her memory of the night of Alex's crash. She told the students that her life has been torn to shreds.

Even now, three years later, Katrina Brown said she often has to leave the room during family gathering because it's too difficult to watch her cousins interact.

"I don't understand why they still get to have their sister, but mine is six feet under. The truth is, there's no reason for Alex to be gone. The only reason she is, is because she had to answer that text, and I guarantee you, it's not worth it."

Jeanne Brown told the students that several studies have been completed in recent years to highlight the dangers of distracted driving.

"From the time we were little we were taught of the dangers of drunk driving," Jeanne said. "When we choose to get behind the wheel and we're buzzed drivers, we're four times more likely to be involved in a wreck. When you choose to talk on a cell phone, whether you're holding that phone or using a hands-free device... you're four times more likely to be involved in a wreck. That means when you're talking on the phone our mind is as impaired or distracted as someone who is legally intoxicated and would go to jail for driving."

Even more surprising, Jeanne Brown said, is the research about texting and driving.

"They've done more research and you know what they found out about texting and driving? When you choose to text and drive you are 23 times more likely to be involved in a wreck -- nearly six times more likely than someone who's legally intoxicated."

Jeanne Brown then shared her experience of texting while walking through her home. She said she often will text while she walks from room to room and will find herself slowing down and even stopping while she finished a text. She asked the students if they ever did that, to which they replied "yes."

"So why do we think we can get in a car, go 70 mph, stay in a 15-foot wide lane and not (run into something) while texting and driving?" she asked. "We can't even walk through our house and do it."

Jeanne Brown shared the stories of several other fatal accidents that were the result of texting or talking on cell phones.

"None of these people had to die. None of them had a terminal illness that couldn't be cured. The all died because people chose to be distracted by their cell phones," she said. "When you chose to pick up a cell phone behind the wheel, you're taking a chance of becoming one of these stories."

Katrina Brown told the students it was up to them to change their behavior; however, she wanted them to do one thing.

"Next time you get a chance to look at your phone, look at your last text message and ask yourself, "Would it have been worth your life?'" she said.

Jackie Grumish
Jackie Grumish has been a reporter with the New Richmond News since 2008. She holds degrees in journalism and fine art from Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Ill. Before coming to New Richmond, Jackie worked as the city government reporter at a daily newspaper in Aberdeen, S.D. 
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