By Paul Tennant
HAVERHILL — Texting can wait — but the warning against engaging in this practice while driving cannot.
Lives are at stake.
As Essex District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett told Haverhill High School students yesterday morning, "You'll save a life," either by refraining from sending electronic messages while behind the wheel or urging friends to do likewise.
Blodgett and AT&T teamed up yesterday to bring the anti-texting-while-driving message to Haverhill High students. The program included a video about tragedies that resulted from young people who were distracted while they were driving — either because someone was texting them or they were sending a message to another person — and couldn't wait.
Indeed, Haverhill High students are feeling the effects of a texting-while-driving tragedy that happened to one of their own. Aaron Deveau, now a Haverhill High senior, was charged with motor vehicle homicide and texting while driving after the car he was operating allegedly crossed the center line Feb. 20 and struck another vehicle driven by Donald Bowley Jr. of Danville, N.H.
Bowley, 55, died March 10 at Massachusetts General Hospital from his injuries. A passenger, Luz Selena Roman, 58, of Haverhill, was seriously injured.
Deveau, 17, of 57 Beach St., is now incarcerated at Middleton jail following his arrest at the high school last week on a charge of possession of marijuana with intent to distribute. His bail on the motor vehicle homicide charge, on which he's scheduled to be tried before a Haverhill District Court jury Feb. 21, was revoked.
In the video "It Can Wait," a Missouri state trooper talked about arriving at the scene of crash in which a girl who had been texting was killed.
"She was going to graduate the next day," the trooper said, noting that her cap and gown were in the car in which she was killed.
A young man who had been convicted of killing a bicyclist because he was texting behind the wheel of his car described the "self-hatred" from which he suffers.
Another young man was shown walking very slowly with the aid of a therapist at a rehabilitation hospital. In slow, halting speech, he recalled — and regretted — "the text message that changed my life." Taking his eyes off the road for a few seconds was all it took to inflict a serious brain injury on him.
"I was normal," he said in a forlorn tone.
Principal Bernard Nangle invited the students to sign a pledge, "We Will Not Text and Drive," and they took him up on it.
"Don't do it," urged Morgan Devoe, a senior who plans to attend college next year, after signing the pledge. She said she has known Deveau since middle school.
It's "crazy," she said, that a texting-while-driving tragedy happened right in her hometown and affected someone she knows.
Julia Rodriguez, another senior, said if one of her friends starts to text while driving, she takes the cell phone and says, "I'll text for you."
"I don't like it," she said of the practice.
"Texting and driving is dangerous. Nobody should do it," Etel Smolnitsky said. Etel takes it a step further, saying people should not talk on their cell phones and drive.
Even if her own mother starts talking on the phone behind the wheel, Etel grabs the phone away from her, saying "Nyet!" Her parents came to the United States from Russia.
Etel aspires to become a mechanical engineer and has her sights set on either MIT or UMass Lowell next year.
Senior Class President Joseph Sherlock called "It Can Wait" a "very strong video." He said he's confident the "real-life events" discouraged students from engaging in an extremely risky behavior.
There was no shortage of dignitaries driving home the point that motorists have no business playing with their cell phones. Besides Blodgett, Congresswoman Niki Tsongas, D-Lowell, and state Sen. Steven Baddour, D-Methuen, implored the young people to let texting wait.
• • •
Join the discussion. To comment on stories and see what others are saying, log on to eagletribune.com.