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Distracted driving is a choice, choose wisely

Student actors Nathan Hammond (left) and Isaac Boedigheimer are interviewed by Cloquet Police Officer Rick Benko during the mock crash scenario. Jamie Lund/jlund@pinejournal.com1 / 4
Speaker Matt Logan tells Cloquet High School students how his daughter died after school on the first day of her senior year. She was texting while driving and ran into the back of a school bus. Jamie Lund/news@pinejournal.com2 / 4
Cloquet High School students listen intently as speaker Matt Logan talks to them about the dangers of distracted driving. Turn off your phone, or put it away, he suggested. Jamie Lund/jlund@pinejournal.com3 / 4
As part of a mock crash held behind Cloquet High School Thursday to show students the dangers of distracted driving, Cloquet Area Fire District firefighter John Hecht cradles student actor Josie Pickar's head after the firefighters cut off the top of the car with the jaws of life. Jamie Lund/news@pinejournal.com4 / 4

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"This dance was definitely the best one," said a teenage girl to her friends. After a bit more chatter and laughing, one of the girls yelled, "Jesse! watch out!" The sound of screeching tires filled the air, two cars collided, then there was silence.

The students watching the mock car crash outside Cloquet High School heard the phone ring next.

"Carlton County 911," a female dispatcher said.

A teenaged boy told the 911 operator that he was in an accident on 22nd Street behind Cloquet High School. He is fine but his friend is not moving and he isn't sure if the friend is breathing.

Several hundred Cloquet High School students braved rain, snow and wind as they huddled together under umbrellas and wrapped in blankets to watch the "victims" — each expertly made up with bloody wounds — be pulled from the wreckage Thursday morning.

The teen boys who were driving recklessly and caused the "accident" were handcuffed by Cloquet police officers and put in the back seat of a police car.

The other "victims" were extracted from the car after firefighters used the jaws of life and put onto stretchers and into the back of an ambulance.

When the mock accident was over, the wet students traipsed back into the school and to the large gym for a guest speaker.

April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month.

Speaker Matt Logan grabbed everyone's attention when he rode a unicycle into the gym, waving his arms in the air. He walked back and forth in front of bleachers packed with students while he talked to them.

He told how he had been watching a movie recently when a friend called him. The friend was aghast that he wasn't watching a basketball game on TV that night. The friend asked what he had been watching, and Logan answered "Twilight."

As students and teachers chuckled, Logan used the movie to segue into his true topic, his daughter.

Logan explained how his daughter, DJ, had loved the Twilight movies. The 17-year-old with long straight hair was a typical teen girl. She loved tradition, was giving, and a planner with a contagious personality.

The first day of her senior year was a sunny Sept. 12, 2012.

It was also the last day of her senior year.

DJ took a first-day selfie after finding the perfect outfit and getting her hair and makeup just right. She was excited about her senior year and graduating from high school.

She called her dad after school that day, around 3 p.m. They discussed which errands she had to run as well a lunchtime drama she was not happy about.

A little while later, Logan was heading home down a country road. He came over the top of a hill and the scene will stay with him for the rest of his life.

He saw the Lifelink helicopter landing and a school bus blocked off by police cars. He couldn't see what was behind the bus.

The high school students were silent, every head turned towards Logan as they listened intently to his story.

Logan described how he pulled over and asked an officer what had happened, then gave him an description of the vehicles his two teenagers were driving that day.

After a bit the officer came back to Logan and asked for his identification.

"That's when I knew I was very involved," said Logan. "It was my daughter."

The officer told Logan she had a faint pulse. Logan watched his daughter get extracted and loaded onto the helicopter.

At the hospital the doctors told him the injuries were extensive and there was nothing they could do to save her.

Logan had a slideshow going as he talked.

The photos showed the school bus with her vehicle barely recognizable.

DJ had been texting a friend about the drama that day at school.

According to witnesses at the scene, his daughter had been driving straight and steady. She wasn't speeding either. Logan said she usually texted with a thumb and had probably just looked down quickly and did not see the bus had stopped in front of her before she drove into the back end.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, sending or reading a text takes your eyes off the road for five seconds. At 55 miles per hour, that's like driving the length of an entire football field with your eyes closed.

Logan said he used to think he was good at multitasking. Now he knows that people are deluding themselves if they think they can successfully multitask several things at once.

"Multitasking is being unable to focus on the task at hand," Logan told the students.

He had the students tell him what they thought of as distracted driving. They named several ways.

"Distracted driving is a choice," emphasized Logan. "My daughter made a bad choice. Now she's never going to turn 18; she's never going to graduate."

Her bad choice changed his entire family forever, Logan said. He told the students that their friends and family would rather they wait to talk to them and arrive alive and safe.

Logan told the students that he understands the temptation to pick up the phone to call or text while driving. He made the choice to shut off his phone while he is driving so he can make it to his destination without the distraction.

"Even though I went through this, I'm still tempted. It's tough," said Logan.

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Distracted driving kills

In 2015 in the United States, 3,477 people were killed, and 391,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers.

During daylight hours, approximately 660,000 drivers are using cell phones while driving. That creates enormous potential for deaths and injuries on U.S. roads. Teens were the largest age group reported as distracted at the time of fatal crashes.

~Statistics courtesy of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

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