PALMDALE — The Jacob Hefter Foundation and Palmdale High School collaborated for The Last Text event Monday morning to raise awareness about the dangers of distracted driving.
Palmdale High juniors and seniors gathered near the school’s large gymnasium to watch as first responders from the Los Angeles County Fire Department, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, California Highway Patrol, and American Medical Response ambulance service responded to a mock traffic collision caused by a distracted driver, senior Yershanie Madrid, who admitted she texted before the collision.
According to the scenario, Madrid suffered minor injuries in the collision. Her vehicle hit another car driven by Sarahi Perez, who suffered serious injuries. Perez’s passengers, Isaac Talavera and Alejandro Maldonado, were killed in the mock collision.
A pedestrian, Desirae Castillo, suffered minor injuries, and a bicyclist, Adam Vidana, suffered major injuries.
High Desert Towing assisted by delivering the cars.
Seniors Madrid, Matthew Garcia, Felicity Heesch, John Dino and Sophia Grande collaborated on the program with the Jacob Hefter Foundation for their senior project. Students Karla Panduro and Jackie Cruz did make-up for the dead and injured students.
“I feel like it’s something that us, as youth, we’re constantly looking at our phone and it’s kind of changed the way we all communicate,” Garcia said. “I feel like it’s something that’s real serious because it’s as simple as you look down and you look up and you’re already off the road. Like, in the blink of an eye things can change so suddenly.”
Garcia added although Monday’s collision was staged, they wanted to make sure their peers realized it could happen anywhere if you drive distracted.
Garcia decided to do The Last Text as his senior project after he saw a similar program at school one or two years ago.
“It was kind of heartbreaking,” Garcia said. “It made me realize how the dangers of how much it can impact not just you but your friends, your family. It kind of made me cry. It leaves a mark.”
Heesch said they also wanted to bring awareness about other types of distracted driving, such listening to music, or talking with your friends.
“We mainly focused on texting and driving,” Heesch said. “There’s a stereotype that us kids are the ones who are causing all of this, so we kind of want to change that and show that we are the bigger people and can make a change.”
Heesch learned about The Jacob Hefter Foundation her freshman year.
The foundation was named after Jacob Hefter, a 2008 Palmdale High School graduate, who was among 25 people killed Sept. 12, 2008, when a Metrolink train collided head-on with a freight train in Chatsworth. The engineer had been sending text messages and missed a railroad signal. Hefter was the son of Alan and Angela Hefter, a Palmdale High teacher and coordinator of the Health Careers Academy.
“I would see people text all the time but I wouldn’t think it’s a big deal,” Heesch said. “That made me realize, yeah, it’s a big deal.”
Now that she is a licensed driver Heesch pledged not to text and drive.
Madrid first heard about The Jacob Hefter Foundation from one the assemblies they do each year. She volunteered to be the distracted driver because she wanted to see how it would feel if she was actually in that situation.
“It impacted me a lot. I didn’t expect it to impact me that much because when I went in I was like, ‘Oh, this is fake, it’s not going to make me feel that scared or anything.’ But when the cops started talking to me everyone’s just looking at me. I looked around and I saw all these people that were hurt. It felt so real and the way the cops were treating me,” Madrid said.
The Last Text participants visited a local law firm to hear about the judicial and legal consequences of the actions of Distracted Driving.
California Highway Patrol officer Gil Hernandez addressed the crowd of students who gathered to watch the scenario play out.
“Driving itself takes 100% of your focus,” Hernandez said. “Anything else you apply to it will actually create a distraction. Your brain is not capable of doing two things at the same time that fast. So therefore you reacting to the dangers ahead of you are going to be delayed.”
Hernandez added more than 3,000 people die each year as a result of distracted driving.
“If you are driver I can assure that from a law enforcement we won’t be letting you out,” he said. “We’ll make sure that we put you away.”
Hernandez said afterward that it is frustrating when he comes on the scene of a collision where a driver was driving distracted. He noted there are many programs that create awareness about distracted driving, such as The Hefter Foundation and programs for teens and adults through the California Highway Patrol and California Office of Traffic Safety.
“There’s so much information out there that when you roll up to a scene and you suspect distraction it’s frustrating because somebody is hurt or somebody is dead on something that is so preventable,” Hernandez said. “Whatever the text message is, whatever the call, it’s not worth it. It can wait.”
Capt. Ryan Jameson of L.A. County Fire Department Station 37, in Palmdale, said they understand there are moments when they can do good, and others when they cannot.
‘We can kind of live for those moments when we can do good, and then recognize there’s times when people don’t walk away,” Jameson said.
Jameson added they do not focus on the cause so much as the human condition and what they can do to make the person better.
“As far as distracted driving, I don’t ever really found out what the cause was — the CHP and the Sheriff’s will handle that kind of thing,” Jameson said. “But every once in a while it’s clear, you realize something’s going on.”
The Last Text is part of series of events this week put on by The Jacob Hefter Foundation for April, which is Distracted Driving Awareness Month.
The Jacob Hefter Foundation 24-foot trailer will be at Quartz Hill High School from 11 a.m. to noon today, and from 3 to 5 p.m. at the softball field for the game between Quartz Hill and Palmdale. The teams will promote their message about distracted driving.
“I don’t reach out to the schools. I let them reach out to us,” Angela Hefter said. “Because it’s softball they’ve got a special banner that’s just Palmdale softball girls that we’re gong to pledge all this week.”
The foundation’s trailer is equipped with texting simulators and banners available for students to pledge to be Text Free Drivers.
Palmdale High students can take the pledge from 10 to 11:30 a.m. Wednesday in the school’s quad during lunch.
The trailer will be at the Palmdale High softball field from 3 to 5 p.m. Thursday for another game between the Rebels and the Falcons softball teams for students to pledge to be text-free drivers.
The week will culminate Friday at Palmdale High with an assembly for students that will feature the video made By Paragon Productions, and public service announcement created on Monday, plus impact statements from participating students and their families, and guest speakers.
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