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Potsdam students hear first-hand account of distracted driving

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POTSDAM - May 18, 2008 was the happiest day of Jacy M. Good’s life so far, at least what she can remember of it.

It was also the worst day of her life.

However the negative aspects of the day, which include the death of both her parents, are not memories that she has.

That was the day Ms. Good graduated from Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pa., but as her family was making the 90-minute drive back home to Lancaster County their vehicle was struck by a milk truck that she says had just picked up 30 tons of milk and swerved to avoid a van that had ran a red light.

The driver of that van was an 18-year-old, approximately one month away from his own high school graduation, who was talking on a cell phone and did not notice the traffic light had turned red.

“This day was the best day of my life,” Ms. Good told a silent auditorium that was filled Wednesday with Potsdam High School students in grades nine through 12.

“We got about halfway home and stopped at a gas station,” she said. “It wasn’t that exciting, but that’s the last memory of the day I have.”

She said it was approximately four to five minutes later when the car she was riding in was struck head on by the milk truck.

Ms. Good’s injuries included two broken feet, a broken wrist, a broken clavicle, a broken fibula and tibia, a shattered pelvis, a lacerated liver, partially collapsed lungs, traumatic brain injury and damage to her carotid arteries. “That’s what almost killed me,” she said.

“We were just in the wrong place at the wrong time,” she said, noting she was in the intensive care unit for two months and not released from the hospital until mid-September, when she was sent to a rehabilitation facility.

Her parents, Jay and Jean Good, weren’t that lucky.

“The only thing I can do is hope is hope mom and dad didn’t experience pain,” she said, noting that she wasn’t even able to attend their funeral because she was in a coma at the time.

“Put yourself in my brother’s shoes. He had to plan a funeral for his parents,” she said, noting he was only 25 at the time.

“I’m so glad that I’m the one who was in a coma. It’s so sad I couldn’t go to my parent’s funeral, but I’m glad I didn’t have to go through what he did,” she said.

After being released from the rehabilitation center, she began a campaign to make driving while talking on a cell phone or texting illegal in the state of Pennsylvania, where to date drivers can legally talk on their cell phones and drive. A law banning texting and driving was only implemented in March 2012.

Given that Pennsylvania did not have a law banning operating of cell phone while driving, the driver of the van was not charged.

“There were no criminal charges,” she said. “No vehicular homicide, no manslaughter, nothing.”

In an article appearing in the Sept. 6, 2008 edition of the Reading Eagle, Berks County District Attorney John T. Adams explained why.

“There is a threshold of difference between an accident and a crime,” he said. “A crime calls for intent.”

And while the police report indicated that the driver had run a red light, Northern Berks Regional Police Chief Scott W. Eaken said the driver did not “willfully” run the red light, noting that if they believed he intentionally ran the red light, the accident would have likely resulted in criminal charges, according to the article.

While the focus of the presentation was distracted driving, Ms. Good also warned students to wear seat belts, noting that if her mother, who was sitting in the back seat, had been wearing a seat belt she might still be alive today.

“I don’t care where you’re going, how far you’re going or how fast you’re going, put your seat belt on,” she said. “It’s the number one thing you can do. My dad never went anywhere without a seat belt on, but it was at least 30 tons that hit him. He didn’t stand a chance.”

Following the accident, Ms. Good said she was in surgery for nine hours, as doctors and surgeons did whatever they could to keep her alive.

“I don’t know what they could have done to my body, but they put it back together the best they could to keep me alive,” she said.

Ms. Good noted though that her family weren’t the only ones impacted by the accident.

“Could you imagine going to school that Monday knowing you killed two people,” she said. “You were just a kid hanging out.”

Her efforts to promote legislation banning cell phone use while driving have landed her on Oprah and even at the U.N., where she learned the United States is lagging far behind many other countries when it comes to those types of laws.

“We have to keep up with Kenya and Uganda, who have stronger laws regarding cell phones than the U.S.,” she said, noting she considers distracted driving an epidemic.

According to Ms. Good, roughly 5,000 people in the U.S. are killed by distracted drivers each year.

“That’s 15 people every day. That’s an epidemic,” she said. “None of these people have to be dead. New York has the strongest laws in all of the United States, but you still can’t go anywhere without seeing someone trying to do something on their cell phones while they’re driving.”

Ms. Good noted that her voice mail message says, “Hey I’m Jacy, and I’m busy or I might be driving.”

Her presentation also included a video from Ms. Good’s fiancÚ, Steve Johnson, who noted he had lost a friend who was a passenger in a vehicle that was driving 90 miles per hour in a 45 miles per hour zone when an accident took place. His advice was don’t be afraid to speak up.

Ms. Good said sometimes she wonders if her accident was a blessing or a curse.

“My career is traveling around the country and being a public speaker, which is the coolest job ever,” she said. “But I want that boring 9 to 5, so I can have my parents back,” she said.

Ms. Good is getting married in October and appeared on an episode of “Say Yes To The Dress” a popular reality show on TLC.

“I did that because I don’t have a mother to help me pick out a dress,” she said. “I don’t have a dad to walk me down the aisle. My goal is for no one to ever have to feel that pain again.”

Following the presentation, Ms. Good took several questions from the audience including, “Have you forgiven the driver?”

“It’s been a long road, but the answer right now is no,” she said. “When he reaches out to me and apologizes, I should be able to.”

At this point Ms. Good said it’s her understanding that both the driver of the milk truck and the van are denying any responsibility for the accident.

When asked what she would say to the van’s driver if he were to call her, she said she would request a face to face meeting.

“I need to meet him,” she said. “If he called me, I think I would be open to it.”

As for how that meeting would go, Ms. Good said she has a general idea.

“I think I would hug him,” she said. “I think hugs solve everything.”

Prior to presenting in Potsdam, Ms. Good gave a similar presentation at Edwards-Knox Central School. Today she is scheduled to give presentations in Lisbon and Hammond.

Ms. Good and her fiancÚ have a website with information about distracted driving. Visitors to the site can also sign a pledge to refrain from cell phone use while behind the wheel.

On the web:

www.hangupanddrive.com


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