Rocky Fork Enterprise

Grieving parents take 'Dnt txt n drv' message to central Ohio teenagers

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Central Ohio parents Brock and Sara Dietrich don't want other families to have to go through the pain they've experienced as the result of losing a loved one from distracted driving.

They've made it their mission to educate teenagers and adults about how one bad decision could forever change the lives of many.

Their 17-year-old daughter, Sydnee Williams, a junior at Gahanna Lincoln High School and Eastland-Fairfield Career & Technical Schools, was driving westbound on state Route 161 near Beech Road on Oct. 18, 2013, when she made the decision to pick up her phone while she was driving.

That choice caused her to crash the vehicle she was driving that had two of her friends as passengers.

Williams died two days later as a result of her injuries. Her best friend, Vicky Navarro, broke her arm, neck and back. She was wearing her lap seat belt, but her shoulder belt was behind her back.

Joe Looker, a front-seat passenger who was wearing his seat belt, walked away physically unharmed.

"We're trying to raise awareness how dangerous texting and driving is," Brock Dietrich said. "It's distracted driving of all sorts. Texting is one of the worst because you're taking hands off the wheel and your mind off driving."

In a split second, he said, Williams lost control of her vehicle.

"Joe said he was on his phone in the passenger seat, texting his mom," Brock Dietrich said. "He felt the car jerk. The car flipped two times and went into ongoing traffic. Sydnee just missed hitting the car of a nurse who was heading to her job at Licking Memorial Hospital.

"She stopped and immediately started CPR on Sydnee," he said. "We credit her for allowing Sydnee to be an organ donor. We were lucky enough a few weeks ago to meet the recipient of her kidney and pancreas. Six organs were placed, with two going to one person."

Following the accident, Dietrich said, he and his wife knew they had to do something.

The first thing they did was make bracelets that were distributed during Williams' funeral services.

The sky-blue bracelets read, "Remember Sydnee 10-20-13. Buckle Up. Dnt txt n drv. Give Life."

Dietrich said he also talked to a state highway patrolman, who said Impact Teen Driving coincidentally was planning distracted-driving education in Ohio within weeks of Williams' accident.

Since 2007, Impact Teen Drivers has emerged as a leading nonprofit organization dedicated to reversing automobile collisions as the leading cause of death among American teens.

Impact's stated mission is to change the culture of driving to save lives not only in this generation of drivers but also in all future generations of drivers.

"They did a video with us in March that tells the story of who Sydnee was and the aftermath of it -- how the decision affected so many lives," Brock Dietrich said.

Williams was pursuing her career in cosmetology, and she loved to sing and dance. She was a member of St. Luke Lutheran Church, where she was active in children's ministry.

To watch a video about her, go online to www.remembersydnee.com/videos.

The Dietrichs showed the video to students at Gahanna Lincoln High School on May 19.

"It's about the emotional connection teens make that 'this could be me,' " Dietrich said. "The kids really were connected with the message. It hits home. Vicky, the rear-seat passenger, talked about the impact. They did everything together. Sydnee changed Vicky's life forever as a result of it."

He said Williams made a bad decision to pick up her phone, causing the crash.

"She also made a bad decision to not wear her seat belt," Dietrich said. "She had her seat belt on earlier that night. For my wife and I, that was the hardest to understand. It was unfathomable to us she wouldn't have her seat belt on.

"Three people were in the same car crash, and they had their belts on in different fashion," he said. "In Ohio last year, over 50 percent of those who died in car crashes would be alive today if they had worn their seat belts, and Sydnee was one of them."

He said he encourages teens to eliminate distractions by turning off their phones while they're driving.

"Do something so you aren't tempted to reach and grab it," Dietrich said. "The decision you make behind the wheel is so critical and look at the impact. Our goal is to have people share Sydnee's story so we can prevent another family from experiencing a similar tragedy."

In addition to taking the message to teenagers, Dietrich said, he will give a presentation to his co-workers at Alliance Data, near Easton, in June.

The Dietrichs also are forming a Remember Sydnee Team to participate in the Dash for Donations 5K on July 12 in downtown Columbus. The event is sponsored by Lifeline of Ohio, an independent, nonprofit organization that promotes and coordinates the donation of human organs and tissue for transplantation.

Anyone who wants to support the cause should go online at remembersydnee.com.

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