PALMDALE — Emotions ran high for hundreds of Palmdale High School seniors who sat in the bleachers of the school’s large gymnasium Friday morning for the conclusion of The Last Text event.
The Last Text began Monday morning with a simulated traffic collision between two cars, a bicyclist and a pedestrian. The cause of the mock collision was a distracted driver who was texting on her phone.
The two passengers in the other car died. The other driver suffered serious injuries. The pedestrian suffered minor injuries, and the bicyclist suffered major injuries.
The students watched a video/public service announcement created from the event. The video featured first responders from the Los Angeles County Fire Department, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, California Highway Patrol and American Medical Response ambulance service
They heard from Jeremiah Johns, trauma clinical coordinator at Antelope Valley Hospital. Johns walked the teens through what happens on the hospital side of a devastating collision.
“What I want you to do is imagine that it’s you on the stretcher heading to the hospital,” Johns said. “Actually, don’t imagine that it’s you. Imagine it’s your sister. Or your brother. Or your boyfriend. Or your mom. I want you to actually choose who it’s going to be. Tough choice, right.”
Johns explained the different life-saving measures they do to save the patient. If they can save the patient. He showed the scan of a normal brain, followed by a scan of a brain that was bleeding and swelling.
“If the brain does die we will have to give up,” Johns said.
They then will have gather the family and tell them the bad news.
If the patient survives, Johns explained what happens next. Multiple surgeries. A skin graft for the arm, illustrated by real-world pictures. The patient is still asleep and not breathing on their own. What happens after that.
“Maybe what you’ve been hearing this week, and seeing this week, has had an impact on you,” Johns said. “Maybe it’s made you think; that’s great. That’s what we want.
“I also recognize it would be very easy to hear these stories and go on with your life, start thinking about the weekend — to forget about these stories and these pictures and this feeling. We ask that you not forget. Please do not forget.”
Seniors Yershanie Madrid, Matthew Garcia, Felicity Heesch, John Dino and Sophia Grande collaborated on the program with the Jacob Hefter Foundation for their senior project.
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.
The teens watched a video about Jacob that featured his parents, Alan and Angela Hefter, older brothers Jared and Jordan, and girlfriend Stephanie Gutierrez. In the video they talked of the pain of losing their son, brother and boyfriend in the devastating crash.
“You want to do something with your life, and we want to see that come true,” Angela Hefter said as she addressed the students.
“But more importantly you’re somebody’s son. Your somebody’s daughter. Or brother. Or sister, Or grandchild, an aunt or an uncle. And they want to see you come home. Your family does not want the message that we had. They do not want to wait 21 hours to found out the fate of their child. We had to wait 21 hours.”
Jacob had just started college at California State University, Long Beach.
“One of the most precious things that we have with us every day is that an hour before Jacob died we got to tell him that we loved him.” Angela Hefter said. “And he said, ‘I love you too, Mom and Dad.’ At least we hold that because we can’t hold him. Know that a life was taken through someone’s selfish decision to send a text and take the responsibility that they had and just throw it away, taking 25 lives.”
She added that is why they started the Jacob Hefter Foundation.
“We suffer every day because we don’t have him, and we see people continuously doing this,” Angela Hefter said. “Distracted driving has reached an epidemic level.
“It’s not meant to be used when you’re operating a car. That man was operating a train. He had 300 lives he was responsible for. There are mothers and fathers who never went home to their children that day.”
Gutierrez, who is now an officer with the Los Angeles Police Department, also addressed the students.
“The video kind of touches a little bit on what that day was like,” Gutierrez said. “But what it doesn’t touch on is that he was on his way to see me.”
Gutierrez had a cold that day. Instead of Gutierrez driving down to see Jacob, he took the train to see her.
“He texted me two minutes before the crash happened and he tells me that his stop was next, and that he loved me,” Gutierrez said.
She texted him back and told him she loved him.
“I was already there waiting for him at the train station,” Gutierrez said.
Then a lady ran through the parking lot screaming something happened to the train. Gutierrez called and called and called Jacob’s phone. She did not receive a response. That’s when Angela Hefter called Gutierrez.
“Didn’t say hello. Didn’t say anything other than, ‘Stephanie, where’s Jacob?’ And I didn’t know.,” Gutierrez said.
Gutierrez waited the 21 hours along with the Hefters.
“I don’t think there will ever be a day when Jacob doesn’t cross my mind,” Gutierrez said. “He’s always there, and he always will be, which is a good thing. Knowing the kind of person he was, we would want this. He would want us to stand up here and talk to you guys.
“My goal, if I could just reach one of you, I hope I reached all of you. But if I could reach one of you; if one of you stands up to make that choice to not drive while distracted, then I feel like I’m doing a good job. I feel like I’m doing good by Jacob.”
The students then heard from the student participants in The Last Text. They read letters to their family and friends as though they were dead.
“Because of someone else’s decision to text and drive they got to choose what happens to me. They chose death,” junior Maria Oorloff said.
Senior Audrey Arauz, who does not have a driver’s license yet, said when she does get one she will be a safe driver.
“It was beautiful and it made me realize the importance of don’t text and drive,” Arauz said. “You know it could happen to anybody. Just because I don’t personally do it I could be a victim.”
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