By Dave Moller
Alex Brown had it all.
She was beautiful, smart, respected, in choir, a cheerleader, actress, FFA and Christian youth group member in her small home town of Wellman, Texas. Her senior year dream was to go into broadcast journalism.
But that day never came because the 17-year-old made a simultaneous choice to text while driving without her seat belt on.
That choice killed Alex on Nov. 10, 2009, and after the initial grieving, her family decided to use her poor judgment to alert other teens about the dangers of texting while driving and not wearing seat belts.
Today the surviving members of the Brown family travel the country imparting that message at one high school after another through their Remember Alex Brown Foundation.
They also tow the pickup truck Alex died in behind them as a hands-on tangible example for their young audiences.
The Browns recently rolled into Clopton High School on a sunny afternoon, but their message was anything but cheery.
While mom Jeanne Brown, dad Johnny Mac Brown and sister Katrina Brown do get some laughs during their hour-long presentation, they pull no punches and share their raw emotions.
“It’s just now getting to me that I’ll never see her again,” said Katrina to the silent and attentive Clopton High crowd. “She’s dead because of a text and shouldn’t be. Life can’t be replaced, but cell phones can.”
A mother’s sorrow
On that fateful day in 2009, Jeanne Brown got a phone call informing her that Alex had not made it to school, an unusual occurrence.
“She didn’t take the four-lane into town that day, she took the country road,” she said. Jeanne went looking for Alex and it was along that country road that she spotted her daughter’s crumpled truck.
She got out of her vehicle and ran to the scene.
“My daughter was in the weeds going in and out of consciousness.”
An air ambulance took her to a trauma center, where “we lost her several times on the operating table.”
The last time was final.
“The highway patrolman said she was going 73 mph and texting,” Jeanne said. “It happened so fast she didn’t have time to respond. She didn’t have her seat belt on and the truck rolled over her and crushed her.”
There are three major types of distraction while driving, Jeanne said.
The first is visual when you take your eyes off the roadway.
The second is manual when you take one of your hands off of the steering wheel. The third is cognitive, when your mind is not focused on driving.
“When you reach for your cell phone while driving, you’re in all three distractions,” she said.
People who drink and drive are four times more likely to be in a crash, “And that’s buzzed driving, not fall-down drunk,” Jeanne said.
Talking on a cell phone while driving also makes drivers four times more apt to have a wreck, she said. Texting while driving makes a person 23 times more likely to have an accident.
“You can possibly hurt or kill yourself and those around you,” because the reaction time of someone driving and texting is similar to person who is 70.
“Our brain can’t focus on what our eyes are seeing,” while driving and texting, she said. “Alex made the choice to text and drive and she made the wrong choice.”
A dad’s lament
Johnny Mac Brown still has his cell phone. He calls them “Crackberries,” because they are so addictive.
“You grew up with this technology,” he told the Clopton students. “You’ve been texting for years by the time you get your driver’s license,” which gives teens a false sense of security about texting behind the wheel. “You’re the generation to stop this,” he said.
“We forget these (vehicles) are 3,000 to 4,000 pound missiles going 70 mph. You’re on top of the world one second and the next, it’s game over.”
The loss of a young life “can devastate the entire community and not just you,” he said. “Wait five minutes (after a text arrives) and pull over. Do you want to trade your life for some words on the phone?”
A sister grieves
Katrina Brown has thoughts every day about what might have been.
“I don’t have my sister anymore and we won’t be in each other’s weddings,” she said.
After a fatal crash, “Your younger siblings will be most effected by the death because they look up to you. When you’re not there, the pain is indescribable.”
She still can’t stay in the same room with her cousins who are sisters, because it accents the pain.
“It’s not worth it,” to text and drive, Katrina said.
It also isn’t financially worth it to have a texting accident, she added.
The medical flight bill for her sister to the hospital was enormous and “Funerals are expensive too.”
To bring home the reality, Katrina asked the Clopton students to embrace a mental exercise of planning their own funerals.
“What color do you want the flowers to be?” she asked. “List six of your best friends as pall bearers. What should your parents put on your headstone?”
In the end, she told the crowd why her family was really there.
“We really don’t want you and your family to go through this.”
For more information about the Remember Alex Brown Foundation, go online to rememberalexbrownfoundation.org