Family uses teen’s death as warning against texting while driving

Thomas Garcia

A family shared the tragedy of losing a loved one with Tucumcari High School students in hopes of stopping other famillies from suffering the same tragedy.

Alex Brown, 17, of Wellman, Texas, died Nov. 10, 2009, in a one-vehicle rollover. Alex was texting friends while driving to school that morning.

“I want to help prevent another parent from having to go through what we have gone through,” said Alex’s mother, Jeanne Brown, who appeared with her husband Johnny Mac and daughter Katrina Tuesday at the Tucumcari High School Auditorium.

Jeanne started the presentation by asking how many of the students drove, then she asked them how many of them made phone calls or sent text messages while driving.

“I did it too,” Jeanne said to the raised hands. “In fact, Alex once asked me, ‘Why are you allowed to drive and text and I’m not?’”

The answer she gave Alex was that she could make the rules when she became a parent. But, because Alex, “decided to drive like her momma that day,” Jeanne said, her daughter will never get that chance.

On the day of her daughters death, Jeanne Brown was teaching at a school in Seagraves, Texas, and was told Alex hadn’t made it in. She called home, and found out Alex left with plenty of time to get to class.

Jeanne went down a county road Alex often took, and found Alex’s truck in the middle of a field. Next to the truck was Alex, slipping in and out of consciousness.

“Her dad got there just before they airlifted her to Lubbock,” Jeanne said. “She was in surgery for several hours. Two surgeons came out and told us all they had done try and save her and the final call was up to us. We had to let her go.”

In addition to her text messages, the family later found out Alex was driving 73 miles per hour and not wearing her seatbelt.

“We are not here to tell you a sad story. We simply do not want your parents to go through what we have gone through.”

Johnny Mac said he understands the temptation of the phone.

“I use my ‘Crackberry’ for everything,” Johnny Mac said, in reference to his Blackberry phone. “Email, texting, Internet; you name it, I was doing it while behind the wheel.”

He said it was hard to put the phone down, even after his daughter died. He knows it would be even harder for the teenagers who have grown up with the devices.

“You have to ask yourself if anything you receive on that phone is worth your life,” Johnny Mac said. “When you pick up that cell phone while you are driving, you are 24 times more likely to be involved in an accident.”

Alex’s younger sister told the students about the pain she felt from the loss of her big sister, whom she also called her hero.

“I looked up to her, she was my role model,” Katrina said. “When I was in the hospital, my dad took my hand and I kept thinking he was going to tell me that Alex was going to be all right. Instead he sat next to me and told me she was gone.”

Katrina said she was unable to sleep in her room, which was across from Alex’s. She said knowing that she was supposed to be there and wasn’t was something she had a hard time coming to terms with.

“We would never again fight for the mirror,” Katrina said. “I knew she sped, didn’t wear her seatbelt and texted while diving, but I didn’t say anything.”

Jeanne said you may think you can beat the odds, but it’s not a good approach.

“With those odds so high it’s going to happen,” Jeanne said. “It may not be today or tomorrow, but it will happen.”

Jeanne said if the teens chose to continue texting and calling while driving she would also urge them to go home and tell their parents what songs they would want to play at their funeral. She said the goal of the family’s program wasn’t to tell a sad story, but to give students a look at consequences.

At the end of the program students exited the auditorium and viewed the truck that Alex was driving when she was killed. The Browns have been pulling the truck on a trailer to the over 200 schools across the country as they work to spread their message.

“It scared me,” Tucumcari High senior Courtney Sandy said. “I am guilty of texting while driving. It’s something you don’t want to think about,” Sandy said.