By Matt Tota
Daily News Staff
Posted Mar. 14, 2014 @ 12:05 am
Reprinted from Daily News (Boston) – wickedlocal.com
FRANKLIN — A portrait of an attractive young woman with blonde hair smiled at them from a projector screen.
The bright face belonged to Casey Feldman, who, her father Joel Feldman said Thursday, has become a heartbreaking example of the danger and pain wrought by distracted driving.
With Casey’s picture looming, the nearly 800 Franklin High School juniors and seniors listened from the field house bleachers as Feldman told them how he lost her.
In July 2009, Casey was struck in a crosswalk by a van while on her way to a summer waitressing job in Ocean City, N.J.
Rushed to Atlantic City Memorial Hospital, the 21-year-old was pronounced dead five hours later.
According to The Delaware County Daily Times, the driver, Anthony Lomonaco, 59, was fined $200 in 2010 after admitting to driving carelessly. Lomonaco, the newspaper reported, was putting his iced tea into the passenger-side cup holder and didn’t see Casey.
Her death became a clarion call for Feldman, a Pennsylvania attorney, and his wife Dianne. After mourning, they created EndDD, a campaign to raise awareness and generate action against districted driving.
Joel Feldman has since traveled throughout the country speaking to high school students about the perils of preoccupied driving, whether one’s talking on a cell phone, fiddling with the radio or reaching for a drink.
Destroyed cars and distraught students covered in fake blood or rolled away on stretchers were absent from his presentation.
Feldman said he found graphic reenactments to be less effective than personal stories and telling facts.
“They’re shocking,” he said. “Maybe they affect a couple of people. But the rest of the people distance themselves: ‘Oh, that couldn’t be me in a body bag; or, ‘Oh, that couldn’t be me being led away in handcuffs.”
Instead, his presentation Thursday stressed the importance of changing one’s habits and recognizing potential risks. He made an effort to pick students’ brains, asking questions, but never lecturing.
“We tell teens that we’re not going to tell them what to do,” he said, adding that he has received a better reaction using this approach.
He provided examples showing that multi-tasking while driving is often impossible for most people. And staring away from the road for just a few seconds can have disastrous effects.
“Driving is cognitively demanding,” he said. “So if you add a secondary task, your brain gets overloaded. You might think you can multi-task, but actually scientific studies show that only three or four percent of us actually have brains wired that way.”
One of the more powerful moments of the morning came when Feldman played a three-minute video clip about two shattered lives.
Kate McGuire, a Groton teen, explains that in 2011 she struck and killed Howard Stein after taking her eyes off the road to adjust her GPS.
The video switches between McGuire, who narrates events as they unfolded, and Stein’s daughter, Emily, who discusses the aftermath.
Emily was six months pregnant when her father died. He never had the chance to see his first grandchild.
Distracted driving is a topic that Kristin Cerce, the high school’s health and physical education director, has covered many times before. It was through the efforts of Cerce as well as state Rep. Jeffrey Roy, D-Franklin, and the Massachusetts Academy of Trial Attorneys that Feldman brought EndDD to FHS.
“It’s always been an issue here at Franklin High, especially with teens and cell phones,” Cerce said.
The hope is that she said Feldman’s presentation sticks with students because it drew on experiences and emotions. If it changes a couple of minds, she said, it would have done its job.
Michael Conley, president of the state trial attorneys academy, said lawyers across the state have started spreading EndDD’s message. “We see this as a concrete opportunity to try to make people safer,” he said.
“We are trying to bring this to as many schools as we can,” he added.
For Roy, the presentation was eye-opening. “I don’t think I really understood just how dangerous distracted driving is,” he said. “To think that it’s worse than drunk driving — I never had a clue.”
Harsher penalties for distracted drivers must be preceded by a “cultural shift,” said Roy.
“I hope these kids become ambassadors for change,” he said. “Because we can pass as many laws as we want in the state Legislature, but without their help, we won’t get very far.”
After students had cleared out, Feldman said he believes many will heed his advice — though for different reasons.
“It could be: ‘Gosh, Mr. Feldman’s daughter was killed,’ and they remember her pretty face,” he said. “It could be: ‘Gosh, could you imagine waking up in the morning and saying I killed somebody?’”
Matt Tota can be reached at 508-634-7521 or [email protected]