Years later, distracted driving death still impacts community - KPTV - FOX 12

Years later, distracted driving death still impacts community

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You may think it's harmless, but the results can be deadly. Distracted driving kills an estimated 15 people every day, according to national statistics.

It's an issue that hits too close to home for a local community, still reeling from the death of a beloved teacher.

"It just takes an instant and that's all it takes to change someone's life forever," Carrie Patterson told FOX 12.

Patterson's husband, Gordon, a teacher at Hudson's Bay High School in Vancouver, was hit and killed by a texting teenager and former student as he rode his bike along St. Johns Road in 2009.

"When you get married, you never expected to be a single parent," Patterson said. "You never get over it.  Life goes on -- you adjust and it changes -- but it's never the same."

Police say cell phone records helped lead to the conviction of Antonio Cellestine, 18, who pleaded guilty to felony hit-and-run and vehicular homicide. He was sentenced to five years in prison.

"It affected us greatly," said Vancouver Sgt. Patrick Johns about the deadly crash.

Nationwide, distracted driving killed 5,474 people in 2009, according to statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.  Of the deaths, around 18 percent of the cases reported a cell phone as the distraction.

Laws have begun to change across the country, and 34 states now ban text messaging for all drivers, including Washington and Oregon.

Since Gordon Patterson's death, using a handheld phone while in motion has become a primary offence, meaning police don't need another violation in order to pull over drivers.

Carrie Patterson testified before state lawmakers to help get the law changed.

"A lot of times, people just don't think and that is why they do it," Carrie Patterson said.

The tragedy has raised awareness within the community of Vancouver, especially within Hudson's Bay High School.

"We think about it all the time," said dad Chris Grahnert.  "We lost a good friend, a good mentor."

Students who know Mr. Patterson's story say they're constantly reminded of the dangers of distracted driving.

"Eyes on the road; texting can wait," said Caleb Grahnert, a freshman at Hudson's Bay who will soon learn to drive.

Since the new law took effect, Johns says he's noticed an increase in the number of drivers who are getting the message.

"I do have to give a thumbs-up," Johns said.  "I've seen more drivers pulling over and parking (to talk on their cell phone) in the last year than I ever have before."

However, police say finding violators is still far too easy, and those forced to live with the devastating consequences want all drivers to realize the responsibility they have while on the road.

"You never plan for something like that to happen," Carrie Patterson said. 

Distracted driving took away her husband and her children's father.

"I can't replace that," she said.  "I can try and do as much as I can, but I can never replace that -- who he was, his talents and abilities, the things he did with them that were very special."

Links: More information on distracted driving | Gordon Patterson's Facebook page

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