“Distracted driving kills. We know that. That’s why we’re here.”
That was the point driven home by Ohio first lady Karen Kasich on Monday evening during the “Maria’s Message” public presentation held at the Chappelear Drama Center on the campus of Ohio Wesleyan University.
WBNS-10TV sports anchor Dom Tiberi, whose daughter, Maria, was killed in an automobile accident on Sept. 17, 2013, hosted the event, along with 10TV news anchors Jerry Revish and Tracy Townsend. Tiberi said his daughter’s accident was attributed to “an unknown distraction.” She was a senior at Ohio State University at the time of her death.
Kasich, one of the guest speakers for the event, said she and Gov. John Kasich are the parents of twin teenage girls who just secured their learner’s permits.
“Emma and Reese are 15 years old,” she said. “That means they are learning to drive. That means I’m a nervous wreck. It also means that ‘Maria’s Message’ especially resonates with me these days.”
Kasich shared from a mother’s heart the lessons she and the governor are passing along to their children.
“When Emma and Reese first started to drive, I had been trying to explain to them that driving is not a right,” she said. “It’s not a right that you get your driver’s license; it’s a privilege. And with that privilege comes an awesome responsibility, and that they need to be aware, not only for themselves, but be aware for the other souls on the highway and the roads. They’re really driving a weapon.”
The first lady said when her daughters reached driving age, she had to internalize the meaning behind “Maria’s Message” and change her own driving habits.
“That meant I had to clean up my act a little bit. I’ll be honest,” Kasich admitted. “They watch and they learn from me, so that phone isn’t near me when I’m driving, and I’m not changing the radio station. You know, I can live with Boy George for two minutes if I have to. I’m not going to mess with that. I’m watching the road. And I’m trying to instill in them that they keep their hands on the wheel and their eyes on the road and their mind on driving.”
Kasich said her daughters took “Maria’s Pledge” on Sunday evening ahead of her scheduled appearance at Ohio Wesleyan. She said she emphasized to her children that taking the pledge is a serious matter and not just lip service.
“I don’t ever want to get that phone call or receive that knock on the door that Dom and Terri Tiberi did on Sept. 17, 2013,” Kasich said in a firm tone. “And I don’t want any of you to get that call either. Later tonight, you’re going to have the chance to do the pledge yourselves, and I hope that you will, and that you will take it seriously.”
Delaware Police Capt. Adam Moore told the group that while law enforcement generally shares facts and figures when talking about distracted driving, the loss felt when someone dies is intensely personal.
“As a police officer, a lot of times we give these speeches and we talk a lot about statistics,” Moore said. “But as I sat here and watched these videos and thought about this today, these are not statistics, they are our community members in a lot of instances. And so, it’s important that we look at it in those terms.”
Moore said dealing with the death of any person, but particularly a young person or a child, takes a severe emotional toll on first responders.
“That is something that impacts public safety all throughout the United States, the state of Ohio and our community,” he told the audience. “That is something that officers never, ever want to have to do. It’s something you carry with you for the rest of your life.”
Before to the presentation, Tiberi detailed some of the resources that “Maria’s Message” and the Maria Tiberi Foundation make available to the public.
“We do these public events,” he said. “To date, I’ve been to 54 high schools. I was at Delaware Hayes and spoke to the students there. They were amazing. We also provide free defensive driving classes. We partner with (the) Mid-Ohio (School) and we do it at 31 Gifts. We’ve had six of those sessions for kids. They’re free of charge and they learn to be defensive drivers.”
Tiberi said the Maria Tiberi Foundation, founded by he and his wife, Terri, has purchased 23 driving simulators that have been placed with local police departments and school districts to help teach defensive driving.
Tiberi noted that law enforcement can only do so much in the fight against distracted driving. He said adults need to bear the bulk of the responsibility when it comes to teaching youth about how to stay safe on the road.
“To me, we can write tickets until the cows come home, but we need to change behavior,” Tiberi said. “It’s the kids that are dying, but we as parents, grandparents, as adults, need to set a better example, because the kids are watching. Somewhere along the line, driving an automobile went from getting from point A to point B, to a place where we now conduct business; where we eat breakfast, lunch and dinner; where apply our makeup; where we have a party. Just drive the car.”
Monday’s presentation will be aired at 8 p.m. Nov. 21 on WBNS-10TV.
For information about Maria Tiberi Foundation, visit www.mariatiberifoundation.org.
Andrew Carter can be reached at 740-413-0902 and on Twitter @AndrewCarterDG.