Cassandra Linder, 16, KS

Cassandra “Cassy” Linder, a popular and thriving high school sophomore with a passion for reading and a love of books, was on her way to visit her sister March13, 2023 near her home in Garden City, Kansas when the car she was driving was hit by a tanker truck that had crossed the highway dividing lines and hit her head on.

The driver of the truck told police that he was talking on a cell phone and had leaned over to pick up a bottle of water that had rolled onto the floor when his tanker truck struck Linder’s car.

Linder’s car was so badly damaged that it took emergency personnel 40 minutes to extract her from the wreckage.

She died at a nearby hospital a short time later.

Since that tragic event, Linder’s family has dedicated itself to raising awareness about the dangers of distracted driving and simple steps that drivers can take to keep themselves and others on the road safe.

Linder’s father, Todd, her stepmother Rosa and siblings hand out small cards with Cassandra’s picture, and an image of a sunflower, her favorite flower, along with the admonition to all drivers that they keep their focus on the road.

The Linders also attach a decal to the card advising drivers to avoid distracted driving and travel with a car banner warning of the dangers of distracted driving.

Every death, every injury resulting from a distracted driving incident is senseless, Linder says, because each could have been easily averted.

“Don’t think this won’t happen to you,” says Linder, 53. “Every time something like this happens it is preventable.”

Linder said Cassandra was an excellent student, who loved to read and was active in a wide range of school activities. She never had an unpleasant word to say about anyone, and she was an avid Taylor Swift fan.

Her congeniality and personable aspect played a central role in her election to student council, for which she was secretary, and her participation in the school dance club. She also had been the manager for the girls’ track and basketball teams.

The day of the crash formed a typical routine for Cassandra. It was the first day of spring break and she was driving to her sister’s house to pick up some clothing. It was supposed to be a quick turnaround because Cassandra was due at work at 5 at the town gymnastics center where she was a coach.

The police accident report says there was clear visibility at the time of the crash. When the tanker truck, traveling east on U.S. highway 50, crossed the highway dividing line, Cassandra, who was traveling in the east bound lane, apparently tried to avoid the oncoming vehicle by swerving to the right.

Cassandra’s car came to rest in a ditch alongside the roadway. The tanker truck flipped over, with the cab ending up on its roof. The police report said there was no evidence of impairment from drug or alcohol use by the driver of the truck, Craig Potts, also of Garden City.

The Kansas Department of Transportation has since designated that stretch of highway as a safety corridor, with increased traffic enforcement.

Linder, a production manager for Unifirst, said the loss of Cassandra has been a difficult burden for his family, but that he intends to work diligently to focus public attention on the problem of distracted driving. His company has been supportive and has pledged to help Linder in setting up a website and a nonprofit to persuade drivers to focus on highway safety and avoid distracted driving practices such as texting and talking on the cell phone.

“I think about it every day, why she was at that point in time at that spot on the highway,” Linder said. “I would like to be that person who goes out to schools to talk about distracted driving. I want it to be a purpose in my life and I want to keep my daughter’s name alive as long as I can.

“I don’t want her to be just a picture on the wall.”