Campaign urges students to W8 2 TXT

West Ashley High School sophomore Jayliss Brown (center), 15, looks on while a classmate signs a pledge vowing to think before texting. Local Subway restaurants and the S.C. Department of Public Safety kicked off their “W8 2 TXT” campaign at the school Wednesday morning.

LaTonia Wine misses the jovial sound of her daughter’s laughter.

“She loved the Lord,” said Wine. “And helping other young people.”

The two were especially close. Their relationship was more like best friends than traditional mother and daughter, Wine said.

All that changed the moment a police officer knocked on Wine’s front door and told her that the unthinkable had happened. He told her that her daughter was killed in a car crash while using a cellphone.

Wine told her daughter’s story Wednesday to an auditorium filled with West Ashley High School students as part of the state’s “W8 2 TXT” or “Wait to Text” campaign.

The initiative is a partnership between local Subway restaurants and the S.C. Department of Public Safety.

Students listened intently as Wine stood center stage and revisited the morning of Sept. 30, 2011.

Her daughter, 29-year-old Tamara Shovonne Steward, was driving a white Saturn on her way to work that day.

She took out her cellphone, just to make a quick call. She was dead moments later.

A green tractor-trailer rammed into Steward’s vehicle as she pulled into traffic on Ashley Phosphate Road.

Steward wasn’t wearing a seat belt, according to the coroner. Her cellphone was still stuck to the side of her face, Wine said.

According to the Department of Public Safety, 110 drivers between the ages of 15 and 24 died on state roads in 2012. It’s unclear how many were using cellphones at the time. But those who send text messages while driving are 23 times more likely to crash, according to a Virginia Tech Transportation Institute Study.

By sharing her daughter’s story, Wine said she hopes to quell the temptation to make what all too often proves to be a fatal mistake.

“Your life means more than anything,” Wine pleaded with the teens.

The students received wrist bands urging them to put down their phones while driving. They signed a pledge vowing to think twice before texting.

Representatives with Subway and the S.C. Highway Patrol also addressed the students.

Patrol Sgt. Bob Beres spoke of the heartache he feels when telling families that their loved one is gone.

“I ring that doorbell knowing that the people in this house will never ever be the same,” Beres said. “Everyone in this room can make a difference.”

Students can visit to sign a virtual pledge wall and be counted in a challenge to win prizes.

Winners will be announced in April, which is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month.