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Vail Valley students learn cell phones can kill

Sarah Mausolf
smausolf@vaildaily.com
Vail, CO Colorado
Dominique Taylor/Vail DailyVail Valley: Students Eduardo Herrera, 16, center left, and Alan Hernandez, 15, try unsuccessfully to drive around the cones on the go-cart course in a go-cart that is programmed to give delayed responsiveness to simulate drunk driving Tuesday during the Distracted Driving assembly at Battle Mountain High School in Edwards.
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VAIL VALLEY, Colorado – Eric Weiss is pretty good at Mario Kart Wii – until he starts texting.

Surrounded by a crowd of students, the 16-year-old sophomore nimbly guides his car through paths on a TV screen inside Battle Mountain High School’s cafeteria. As soon as Weiss looks down at his cell phone, though, everything changes.

“Oh, God, there’s a cow!” one of the students in the crowd cries out, as Weiss barely misses the grazing electronic animal.



Weiss receives a text from a friend that reads “Hey, what’s going on?” By the time he texts back “I’m driving,” he has crashed his Mario Kart into a fence.

“You can’t really pay attention to your phone and the TV at the same time,” Weiss concluded. “It’s confusing. You crash a lot.”



The dangers of using cell phones while driving was the focus of an event at Battle Mountain Tuesday.

Shelly Forney from Fort Collins said her 9-year-old daughter always lit up a room. But on Thanksgiving 2008, she lost her daughter because of a distracted driver.

Two days before Erica Forney died from brain injuries, she was riding her bike home from elementary school. A 36-year-old woman who lived in Erica’s neighborhood was finishing a call on her cell phone when the woman crashed her SUV into Erica.



“She didn’t know she hit my daughter until she heard a thud,” Shelly Forney told an auditorium full of Battle Mountain students on Tuesday. “That thud was my 9-year-old daughter. I just want you to get the reality of this.”

Forney told her story to students and urged them to stop using their cell phones while driving. “What you think is an innocent phone call is a decision whether you live or die that day,” she said.

A group of moms has been organizing safe driving events at Battle Mountain since 2004, parent Debbie Robbins said.

During this year’s event, students signed a poster, pledging to stop texting while driving.

They also tried on special impairment goggles, talked to police about safe driving and gawked at a crashed car display outside the cafeteria.

Several agencies helped with this year’s event, including the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office, the Eagle County EMS Prevention Committee, Vail police and Think First, the Vail Valley Medical Center’s injury prevention committee.

In a parking lot outside the school, Megan Richards showed students what it feels like to drive while distracted by cell phones. As students rode a go-cart through a course of orange cones, Richards, the school resource officer with the sheriff’s office, used a remote control to send the go-cart out of control – simulating the overly wide turns and overcorrecting done by distracted drivers.

“As technology has progressed, we can basically run our lives from the car, the driver’s seat,” Richard said.

Yet texting, checking e-mail or talking on the phone while driving can have dangerous, or even life-threatening consequences for teens.

“We need to send the message that they’re not invincible and it can happen to them,” Richards said. “We just want to make sure they make it home alive.”

The message seemed to sink in.

After running over a few cones in the impaired go-cart, sophomore Eduardo Herrera reached a conclusion.

“If that actually happened in the road, that would be a total disaster,” he said.

Staff Writer Sarah Mausolf can be reached at 970-748-2928 or smausolf@vaildaily.com.


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