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Toward Zero Deaths: One is one too many

Matt Logan shared the story of his 17-year-old daughter D.J.'s fatal crash at the 5th annual Northwest Minnesota Toward Zero Deaths workshop on Wednesday. D.J. was texting while driving. MONTE DRAPER | BEMIDJI PIONEER

BEMIDJI -- Matt Logan's oldest daughter D.J. will never text while driving again. She died in 2012 after colliding with a school bus. D.J. was sending a text message when the crash occurred.

Logan spoke at the fifth annual Northwest Minnesota Toward Zero Deaths workshop at the Sanford Center on Wednesday. His message was clear -- people need to be educated on the dangers of texting while driving.

"Investigators found no drugs or alcohol. It was simply that she was composing a text," Logan said.

D.J. was driving home from her first day as a senior at Byron High School. She had the cruise control set at 63 mph on the Pontiac Montana she was driving. She was wearing her seatbelt. When she struck the back of the bus, the airbag deployed.

"She was trapped in the vehicle, wedged under the school bus," Logan said. Logan was driving home when he came upon the crash scene caused by "composing a text."

Logan spoke with D.J. after she was let out of school at about 3 p.m.; that was the last time he would talk with her. D.J. took her last breath at 8:51 p.m. at St. Mary's Hospital in Rochester.

D.J.'s body was bruised. She was wearing a neck brace and had sustained injuries that would not heal. Logan had to explain to dozens of teenagers who came to see D.J. that she was going to die. D.J. would never turn 18.

Texting while driving is illegal for everyone. It is illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to use a cell phone while driving. Texting slows reaction time to vehicles braking quickly and changing lanes as well as lights changing. The unpredictable factor in D.J.'s crash was a school bus stopping unexpectedly.

Toward Zero Deaths Workshop

Minnesota State Patrol Captain Michael Hanson presented Toward Zero Death information to Beltrami County Commissioners on Tuesday.

"We've cut the fatality rate in half in 10 years," Hanson said. "People are making better decisions, but we have a long way to go."

Toward Zero Deaths regional crash data revealed on average the number of serious injury and fatal crashes have been declining. It also showed there were six fatalities in Beltrami County in 2013, one more than the average since 2009.

There are four rules law enforcement stresses to prevent and survive crashes: pay attention, drive the speed limit, never drink and drive and always wear your seatbelt. Thirty percent of fatalities involve alcohol.

Hanson said cultural factors like not wearing seatbelts, speeding and drinking alcohol while driving are more common in rural areas. Education, he said, is key to changing those behaviors.

"Seatbelts are a habit," Hanson said. "Every occupant, every trip, every time."

Commissioner Jim Lucachick said he's proof seatbelts work because he walked away from a 40 mph t-bone accident. Seatbelt usage rose from 73.9 percent in the Northwest Toward Zero Death region in 2012 to 74.6 in 2013.

Commissioner Tim Sumner said he'd like to see more efforts to educate motorists in the Red Lake area. A fatal crash occurred near Redby on May 20. The driver, a 41-year-old man from California, also collided with a school bus.

Red Lake has the highest fatality rate in the Northwest Toward Zero Deaths region. Beltrami County is sixth out of the 11 counties in the region. The region includes Lake of Woods, Clearwater, Roseau, Marshall, Pennington, Beltrami, Kittson, Hubbard, Polk, Norman and Red Lake.

Sumner said some people traveling to Bemidji from the Red Lake reservation are concerned about being stopped by law enforcement frequently on Highway 89. Hanson said since there will be a number of new state troopers patrolling Beltrami County's 750 miles of road, including Highways 2 and 89, there won't be any decrease in traffic stops. The majority of fatal and serious injury crashes occur on state highways and county roads.

"We have to educate people," said Beltrami County Chief Deputy Ernie Beitel. "It takes a community to get everybody involved."

Distraction related fatalities and serious injury crashes in the Northwest region declined from a peak of 94 in 2012 to 57 in 2013. Texting, however, is not the only form of distracted driving. Hanson described distractions as a "huge tsunami" including cell phones and navigational devices in those distractions.

"Distracted driving crashes are difficult to investigate," Hanson said. "We're going to have to rely on technology to save us from technology."

Crystal Dey
Crystal Dey covers crime, courts, tribal relations and social issues for The Bemidji Pioneer in Bemidji, Minnesota. Originally from Minnesota’s Iron Range, Dey has worked for the Echo Press in Alexandria, Minnesota, The Forum in Fargo, North Dakota, The Tampa Tribune in Tampa, Florida, the Hartford Courant in Hartford and West Hartford News in West Hartford, Connecticut. Dey studied Mass Communications at Minnesota State University Moorhead with an emphasis in Online Journalism. Follow Crystal Dey on Twitter @Crystal_Dey.
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