The fall day was warmer than normal – a little overcast, but beautiful nonetheless. School was in session, and I was busy with several items on my “To Do” list – adding more than marking off. Just after 9:30AM, an aide from the high school stopped by to ask whether my senior daughter, Alex, would be coming to class that day. I assured her Alex should be there and called Alex on her cell.
After several attempts to reach her by phone, I called my husband and asked if Alex had overslept. He said Alex was up and ready for school when he left the house at 8:30AM for work. Since she wouldn’t answer her phone, I left campus to drive home and find her. As I left, my heart told me to take the back way home.
Four miles from school, I found Alex’s truck sitting in a field. It wasn’t what I expected to see. I thought maybe she had car trouble and just had her phone on silent so she didn’t hear my calls. But reality wasn’t that kind.
I ran to the truck. It was sitting right side up, but it had obviously rolled. Alex wasn’t there.
My mind raced: Where did she go? She must have gone to get help! Which direction did she go? I need to find her – she doesn’t know where houses are out here. She could be miles away from anyone. What direction should I go? How did she get out of the truck? What is that noise?
As I walked around the truck trying to locate the noise, I found Alex – several feet from the truck. She was laying in the weeds and dirt, going in and out of consciousness.
A friend drove us to the emergency room – it was the longest trip to Lubbock I ever had. The pilot called to let me know that Alex was still alive when they arrived. I thought, “Of course she’s alive.” It was silly that everyone acted like she wasn’t going to survive!
We met the surgeon when we walked into the waiting room. He said she probably wasn’t going to make it. Again with that silly talk! I told him that wasn’t true. Everyone looked at me like I was crazy – but I just couldn’t comprehend that Alex wouldn’t be with us anymore.
Several hours passed – seemed like days – when the surgeon returned. He sat down with us and explained what they had done for Alex. He looked at me and said, “We’ve lost her several times. I need to know what you want us to do.”
It was at that point I realized that Alex really wasn’t going to be here anymore. My husband and I said at the same time: “Let her go.”
The surgeon left to prepare Alex so we could go see her one last time. My husband looked at me and said, “You know what we have to do?” I was totally lost: “No. I don’t have a clue.”
He said we had to share what had happened and educate students about the dangers of texting while driving. Somehow, he knew that’s what had caused Alex’s crash. But I couldn’t believe it.
I had to know. So as soon as we got home, I jumped on the computer to check her cell phone records.
Yes. It was true. Alex was distracted by her cell phone –texting with four friends on her morning drive to school. The highway patrol officer investigating the crash later discovered she was also speeding and not wearing her seat belt – which allowed her to be thrown from the truck and crushed when it rolled over.
It isn’t easy telling everyone we speak with that Alex’s choices killed her. She was an outstanding young lady – usually she made really great choices. But these are the choices that she is remembered for.
When our family’s journey began in December 2009, we didn’t know much about the dangers of texting while driving. It wasn’t until after Alex’s crash that we discovered nearly 6,000 people were killed by distracted driving in 2008 alone. Why did we never hear about that?
Something needed to change, so our family started talking. We’ve already traveled to 28 states and spoken at over 400 schools. Hundreds of thousands of people have heard Alex’s story from personal appearances, TV shows, and interviews – including our “Faces of Distracted Driving” video.
We are thankful to report that the dangers of distracted driving are now being openly discussed. More people are joining the movement to ban texting behind the wheel, and lawmakers are starting to listen. In our state, Texas lawmakers are debating a bill that would make texting while driving a primary offense with graduated fines for multiple offenses.
Our goal is to encourage all drivers to choose safety over social media. Texts can wait – the messages that arrive while you are driving will still be on your phone when you reach your destination. But choosing to read or reply to that message while driving may keep you from reaching your destination at all.
The choice is literally in your hand. So please: choose life.
To learn more about Jeanne's work in Alex's memory, please visit the Remember Alex Brown Foundation.