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Mother on mission to warn teen drivers, save lives

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Montavia Anthony, 16, rides the Seat Belt Convincer which is a simulation of a car crash at ten miles an hour during the Countdown 2: Drive for Parents and Teens event at Vidant on June 27, 2018. (Molly Mathis/The Daily Reflector)


By Tyler Stocks
The Daily Reflector

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Sarah Edwards loved fishing, hunting, and especially, playing softball.

She also was a rising senior at Southside High School in Washington, N.C., who never made it to graduation.

One January afternoon in 2011, her family's world was turned upside down.

Edwards was driving her Honda Accord along Chandler Road in Beaufort County and looked down to read a text message. Her car crossed the center line and struck a logging truck, killing her.

Her mother, Tracy O'Carroll has made it her mission ever since to educate teens and parents about the perils of distracted driving.

“Seven years ago, my daughter Sarah Edwards passed away from a text message,” O'Carroll said Wednesday afternoon at Ford’s Countdown 2: Drive for Parents and Teens event at Vidant Medical Center. 

O'Carroll travels across the country telling the story of grief that she said no parent should endure.

“I do this because it is something I don't want any parent to ever have to go through,” she said. “The loss of a child is something you will never get over. It is very important that these kids, and also adults, get through their head that a text message is not worth losing your life or someone else losing theirs.”

Countdown 2: Drive for Parents and Teens is an event aimed at educating teens and parents about safe driving habits while providing them with informational presentations and hands-on simulations of real driving conditions. 

At the event Wednesday, more than 125 teens listened to deputies and troopers tell stories of what they have seen over the years, while also being mentored on how they can become safe, responsible drivers.

O'Carroll spoke about her daughter and showed attendees the jarring photo of her daughter in the mangled car.

“That is something I just started doing,” she said. “It's more impactful when people get to see that I had to see.”

Ellen Walston, Safe Kids Coordinator at Vidant Medical Center, said that the free event is put on twice a year, thanks to many partnerships in the community.

“It's an initiative to teach teens about safe driving, new habits and how not to become distracted,” she said.

In previous years, Walston said the event has been held at Pitt County Schools including D.H. Conley, J.H. Rose, and South Central High School.

Currently, Pitt County is No. 1 in the state for crashes, and ranks 12th statewide for teen crashes and teen crash-related fatalities, Walston said.

State Trooper Doug Coley, who spoke to the teens and parents Wednesday, said the program helps law enforcement get the word out about driving safety.

“We need to get the message to teen drivers about safety, not only about texting and driving but seat belt use as well, reducing speed, staying away from alcohol and making good decisions,” Coley said. “We need to make sure teens are making good decisions while behind the wheel.”

A common denominator in many car crashes is speed, Coley said.

“Increasing speed magnifies mistakes,” he said. “We know that when you increase your speed, you increase the chance of injury, increase property damage and increase the chance of death. So they need to slow down and make good decisions when behind the wheel. Wear your seat belt and no texting and driving.”

Walston said that the program's intent to is to help foster a culture of safety.

O'Carroll underlined this goal as she spoke of her daughter's contagious smile and zeal for life.

“Sarah's memory lives on and she left a legacy,” O'Carroll said. “Talking about her helps me grieve. That's how I grieve. I enjoy the interactions with the kids and parents I meet because I hear stories you never thought you'd hear. I make an impact on the kids.”

To learn more about the program, contact Ellen Walston at 847-8532.  

Contact Tyler Stocks at tstocks@reflector.com or 252-329-9566.  Follow him on Twitter @TylerstocksGDR