Goose Creek woman plans grass-roots effort to halt texting-while-driving
GOOSE CREEK — Myra Walz comes off as shy and quiet. Not much of an activist. But in late June came the phone call that forced her out of her shell.
The family of Sabrina “Bree” Wilson, a mother of two daughters who was killed in a texting-while-driving accident, is asking supporters to visit a Facebook page dubbed “The Bree Promise” and endorse giving up texting behind the wheel.
Hundreds of miles away, on a barren strip of Wyoming highway, her niece had crossed the center line, slamming into an oncoming truck.
Sabrina “Bree” Wilson, 31, a mother of two daughters, died on the scene in a horrific crash.
“As soon as we found out that she was texting while driving, I said ‘no more, never again,’?” Walz said.
“I have to admit that I was guilty of texting and driving too,” she added, “but after we found out she was killed, I said ‘no more.’?”
Around Charleston today, nearly everyone who has read this article is likely to spot someone chatting on a cellphone while cruising behind the wheel. Chances are nearly as good you’ll see someone text-messaging as well.
Walz wants that to change, if not by legislation then through action. She’s brought the family’s campaign to end texting-while-driving to Lowcountry roadways.
“I have no idea how far I’ll take this,” she said. “But it’s all for Bree, and saving lives.”
Despite the known dangers, texting-while-driving remains legal in South Carolina, one of six states with no prohibition on the habit for either teenagers or adults.
A Statehouse bill that would have banned the practice, as the federal Department of Transportation is encouraging all 50 states to do, died with the end of session in June.
State statistics on the frequency of testing-while-driving accidents are incomplete, partly due to the fact that record-keeping on such events is relative new.
Nationally, federal statistics show that in 2010 alone, more than 3,000 people were killed in distracted-driving crashes, which include everything from texting to eating behind the wheel. Drivers are 23 percent more likely to crash texting while driving, the government contends.
Members of S.C. law enforcement say they are amazed at some of the extremes they have witnessed that distracted drivers will go to in responding or receiving a text, including “thumbing” through intersections, or speeding under traffic lights.
“It does make me cringe,” said Charleston police Lt. Jason Emanuel, commander of the department’s special units. “We can see what amounts to a dangerous act, but because it’s not illegal there’s not much we can do about it,” he said.
The S.C. Highway Patrol has similar stories and is stressing safe driving through the initiative program “W8 2 TXT,” or Wait To Text.
Lance Cpl. Judd Jones, who patrols Orangeburg County, remembers seeing a driver working his cellphone while at the same time he was scanning a computer pad.
“He was kind of not just in his lane but crossing over a little bit,” Jones recalled.
Text accidents happen on almost daily basis, according to national statistics. One recent case involved Texas driver Chance Bothe, who was heading home from college this year plugging in “I need to quit texting because I could die in a car accident and then how would you feel ...”
Seconds later, his pickup veered off a bridge and into a 35-foot-deep gulch. He survived with a broken neck, punctured lung and a fractured face. He also is learning to walk again.
“I’m very lucky that I’m not gone forever,” Bothe, 21, told a Houston television station on his last day of a six-month rehabilitation, according to published reports. “I still have things to do in this world” that include spreading first-hand warnings about the dangers of texting while driving.
After Wilson’s death June 21 on Wyoming state Road 59, her family members started a national effort anchored by a Facebook page dubbed “The Bree Promise,” where supporters promise to stop texting behind the wheel.
Within two weeks of the accident, the page had 7,000 members. Last week, membership reached above 21,000.
Walz, who doesn’t know any South Carolina lawmakers or police chiefs and isn’t skilled in publicity, wants the effort to take root locally. She hopes to go into nearby Stratford High School, which her three now-adult children attended, and tell her niece’s story.
Part of the effort includes passing out bumper stickers reading “Promise Me and Bree You Won’t Text and Drive.”
It’s all about helping some other family avoid the grief, she said. “I want to spread the message — texting and driving kills.”