Reality of texting and driving

Published 7:04 pm Saturday, August 3, 2013

Wreckage to be displayed at National Night Out

It’s a compelling example to hold up: a car mangled beyond recognition, a place where a life ended. On Tuesday night, the results of one young woman’s attempt to text and drive will be on display at National Night Out, a nationwide block party where law enforcement and the community it serves come together to take a stance against crime.

The car was owned by Sarah Edwards and since the high school senior’s death in 2011, her mother, Tracy O’Carroll, has been campaigning, first on her own, then with the sponsorship of the North Carolina State Highway Patrol and Subway’s “W8 2 Txt” campaign. O’Carroll has travelled the Southeast, speaking to crowds of up to 2,000 people at a time, pushing the point that texting while driving can get you killed. Tuesday, Beaufort County residents can see the results for themselves at Beebe Memorial Park.

O’Carroll was asked to speak at the event by Lt. Karen Ball with the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office, but O’Carroll knows from experience that having Sarah’s car present will create a much deeper impression.

“I have found that doing my speaking with the car there has had a huge effect on the kids,” O’Carroll said. “Because they’re able to see exactly that impact and what she had to go through — to see how something like that can make you lose your life.”

Since O’Carroll has become a spokesperson against texting and driving, she’s realized it’s not just the school kids who’ve been affected by her and Sarah’s story: it’s parents too. She described a student who went home after school to bring their parents back to Washington High School to see what he’d seen during O’Carroll’s talk earlier that day.

“Parents came out there that night with flashlights,” O’Carroll said. “They wanted to see what their child had viewed and to get in their own heads what can happen—how quickly it happened and what kind of damage it did.”

Sarah was driving, sending a text to her boyfriend, when she veered across the center line and ran into the rear wheels of an oncoming logging truck. Since the accident, Sarah’s car has been stored at Elks Garage in Chocowinity and when O’Carroll needs it at an event, Carl Elks tows it to the destination and back at no charge.

“When Sarah’s accident happened, I didn’t know a lot about texting and driving. I knew she liked to talk on her cell phone while driving and I got on her about that,” O’Carroll said, explaining how she started her campaign. “I thought if I couldn’t save Sarah, I could save someone else. If I could save one life — and I don’t even have to know about it.”

Along with food, games and raffles, National Night Out will feature Washington Police and Fire Services, Washington Housing Authority, Beaufort County Crime Stoppers, U.S. Coast Guard, the Salvation Army, Beaufort County Health Department, Coldwell Banker Realty, N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Beaufort County, National Guard and others to represent the educational aspects of the event.

O’Carroll will also be speaking Tuesday night, as she has on many other occasions in the past year, and she never gives the same speech.

“A lot of people ask, ‘Do I have a speech?’” she said, adding that the answer is no. “It comes from the heart. I tell it like I felt it … what happened at the morgue … to see your child laying lifeless on a table. It’s reality. And that’s exactly what they need: reality.”

National Night Out takes place at Beebe Memorial Park from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday. The park is located at West 11th and North Bridge streets in Washington.