Father remembers daughter lost to distracted driving, reminds others to focus on the road

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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Distractions on the road can be dangerous and even deadly.

April is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month and a local father wants to make sure no one else has to go through what he did.

One of the most common distractions while driving is a cell phone.

"Don't answer it. Put it away," Tim Wooden said.

The issue is widely known but often ignored. According to the National Safety Council, the number of distracted driving crashes has risen over the last nine consecutive years.

"It has become, sadly, accepted that we can be on our phone and be texting," Eric Koeppe, President, and CEO of National Safety Council Nebraska said.

Those who live with the pain of its turmoil plead with others not to give in.

"I said, 'How does it look? Do you love your watch?' Those are probably the last words we heard from her," Wooden said.

He lost his 12-year-old daughter Ashley on Saturday, November 3, 2007. She was sitting behind her father in the family minivan, admiring her new cross watch bought with money saved from babysitting.

"Perfect day. Everything is going great... then we entered this intersection and life changed," Wooden said.

He was driving west on Blondo St. when Jeffrey Clinton ran the red light on 132nd St. in his red pickup and crashed into Wooden's passenger side.

"Came into the side of our vehicle about a foot-and-a-half, two foot into our vehicle and rolled us about two-and-a-half times and we ended up upside down," Wooden recalled.

He called out to his oldest daughter to check on her younger brothers.

"She wasn't saying anything," the father remembered.

Ashley had severe brain trauma. Surgeons removed part of her skull to reduce brain swelling, but she lay lifeless in a coma for a week.

"You don't think... as a parent you're going to have to make decisions that you have to make," Wooden said.

Nebraska State Law lists distracted driving as a secondary offense, meaning a driver can only be ticketed or charged if pulled over for another violation first.

The National Safety Council in Nebraska continues its work to change that.