December 19, 2014

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Father drives home message on dangers of texting behind the wheel

John P.T. Gordon presents “Rusty’s Story" to Lorain County JVS students on Thursday. STEVE MANHEIM/CHRONICLE

John P.T. Gordon presents “Rusty’s Story” to Lorain County JVS students on Thursday. STEVE MANHEIM/CHRONICLE

OBERLIN — One text message left a wife without her husband, two children without their father and a father without his son.

It’s been six years since John P.T. Gordon lost his son, John “Rusty” Gordon, in a texting-while-driving crash. On May 18, 2008, a motorist swerved into the wrong lane, striking Rusty Gordon, who was driving a motorcycle.

Rusty died instantly.

Today, John Gordon is hoping to keep the memory of his son alive with a message for teenagers: Texting while driving isn’t worth the cost.

“He was my son and my best friend, and I can’t talk to him anymore because he was killed by a texting driver,” he said.

Gordon has been using Rusty’s story to appeal to drivers both young and old to put down the cell phone. To date, he has presented “Rusty’s Story” to more than 15,000 students throughout the state.

Students watch “Rusty’s Story,” a presentation on distracted driving.

Students watch “Rusty’s Story,” a presentation on distracted driving.

On Thursday, Gordon spoke with students at Lorain County Joint Vocation School as part of a program presented by the Family Career and Community Leaders of America class.

FCCLA is a nonprofit career and technical student organization for students in family and consumer sciences education.

Lorain County JVS students Alyssa Tabar, Gabriell Dillard and Megan Casselman helped organize the event for students. They said they wanted a message that would resonate with students their age.

“We thought it was really important for the kids to understand. We want to get the word out to everyone we can,” Tabar said.

Part of the message is getting students to sign a pledge to not text and drive. Thursday’s presentation also included videos of distracted driving wrecks and messages from those who have lost loved ones because of texting and driving.

“It changed my opinion,” Gabriell said. “Especially coming from a teenager that texts and drives. I won’t do it anymore.”

Students gasped while watching a vehicle burst into pieces after striking a median on the left side of the roadway. The collision was captured on a police cruiser’s camera in Dayton. After an investigation, police learned that the driver was using a cell phone at the time of the crash.

Gordon said, while texting may take a few seconds, a lot can happen in those few seconds.

Amanda Dorton, a JVS student from North Ridgeville, looks down while graphic images of car crashes are shown at a distracted-driver presentation.

Amanda Dorton, a JVS student from North Ridgeville, looks down while graphic images of car crashes are shown at a distracted-driver presentation.

A teenager featured in AT&T’s documentary, “The Last Text,” said he looked down at his phone for only a few seconds when he struck a bicyclist on the side of the road. The man, 63-year-old geologist Jim Price, was killed.

“I sent one stupid, meaningless text, ‘LOL,’ and I killed a man,” the teen said.

Gordon said the average text message takes 4.6 seconds to type and send. At the speed of 55 mph, a driver may travel the length of a football field in 4.6 seconds, Gordon told students.

In 2012, distracted drivers killed 3,328 people and injured 421,000, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported. Gordon said teenagers are the most likely to be involved in a fatal crash caused by distracted driving.

The National Safety Council estimates that every 24 seconds, there is a cell phone-related crash.

Gordon said his son Rusty would be 41 today had he not been struck by the 20-year-old motorist.

Gordon and Rusty worked alongside one another at the Marion County Common Pleas Court as the only father-son bailiff team before the accident. Rusty previously was a police officer, like his father, in Marion County.

After Rusty’s death, Gordon became an advocate for tougher restrictions on texting-while-driving, testifying before the Ohio State Senate.

In June 2012, House Bill 99 was passed, which prohibits a person who is younger than 18 from using an electronic wireless communication device in any matter while in a vehicle. Adult drivers are prohibited from texting while driving under the law.

Contact Chelsea Miller at 329-7123 or cmiller@chroniclet.com. Follow her on Twitter @ChelseaMillerCT.