Mother against distracted driving

Published 6:05 pm Monday, September 3, 2012

Tracy O’Carroll holds the graduation photo of her daughter, Sarah Edwards, who was killed in a traffic accident in 2011. Edwards, a Southside High School senior, was responding to a text when her car collided with a logging truck, killing her instantly. (WDN Photo/Mona Moore)

CHOCOWINITY — Tracy O’Carroll’s last phone call with her daughter, Sarah Edwards, ended with Sarah’s promise to be careful and both saying “I love you.”
Minutes after that phone call, Sarah received a text from a boyfriend. She answered the text as her 1988 Honda Accord drifted over the centerline and into the rear tires of a logging truck. Sarah, who was 18, was killed instantly in the Jan. 5, 2011 wreck on Chandler Road.
“She broke the axle and it was a fully-loaded log truck,” O’Carroll said.
O’Carroll learned of the wreck minutes after it happened and was at the wreck before investigators left the scene. She wanted to blame the driver, but the evidence was clear. North Carolina Highway Patrol investigators recovered Sarah’s phone and were able to download the texts and call records.
“It was just a stupid, stupid text,” O’Carroll said. “He said, ‘Are you sure you want me to leave you alone? This sucks’ and she answered, ‘yes.’ A stupid, stupid text. It wasn’t worth her life.”
O’Carroll later spoke to the truck driver. She left a message at his job to say she did not blame him and he returned her call the same day. He told O’Carroll she deserved to know everything about the last few minutes of Sarah’s life.
“He said he kept waiting for Sarah to look up and she never did. She never knew what hit her,” O’Carroll said.
O’Carroll’s eyes light up when she talks about Sarah’s 18th birthday. She remembers how Sarah’s eyes lit up when she got the birthday cake of her dreams. It was covered with zebra stripes.
“That was like the best day ever,” O’Carroll said with a smile.
Sarah loved softball, music and fishing. People called her the “dog catcher” when she hunted because she was so good at catching up with them.
The Southside High School senior took tons of pictures of herself and loved to bake. She wanted to be a chef and had been accepted to culinary school shortly before she passed away.
Sarah planned to come home to Chocowinity after culinary school and open a restaurant with her mother.
“She wasn’t going to go too far from home,” O’Carroll said.
O’Carroll still wants to make that dream come true, but she has a more pressing matter to attend to. In the 20 months since her daughter’s death, O’Carroll has made it her mission to prevent similar tragedies.
“I felt in my heart that what Sarah would want me to do is go and tell her story,” O’Carroll said.
She contacted the North Carolina Highway Patrol and volunteered to speak to teenagers whenever the opportunity presented itself.
“You know, it’s for adults, too,” she said. “If I could get a group of adults in a room, too, I’d tell them the same thing.”
She has also started a fund called “For the Love of Sarah” to collect tax-deductible donations for the FHP distracted driving program to continue.
Sarah’s story has appeared in “Consumer Reports.” O’Carroll will be speaking at Greenville’s D.H. Conley High School in October and at Northside High School in a few weeks. She is looking forward to Governor Beverly Perdue declaring Sept. 19 no-texting day.
O’Carroll said it is never easy reliving the incident that took her second-oldest daughter’s life, but saving the heartache for other parents is her motivation.
“I feel like that’s my way of being able to grieve,” O’Carroll said. “And it needs to be done.”
Tax-deductible gifts to the For the Love of Sarah fund may be mailed to PO Box 167, Blounts Creek, N.C. 27814.