NEW PALESTINE — An audience of more than 600 freshmen and sophomores sat in silence, eyes fixed on the woman standing on the school auditorium’s stage.

She chose her words carefully and spoke slowly, pausing from time to time to let it sink in.

Jodi Comer recently spoke before the students about the dangers of texting while driving, the simple distraction that robbed her of her daughter.

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On Dec. 30, 2011, Emily Huntington, her 18-year-old daughter, was killed in an accident while texting behind the wheel.

“Her opportunities and dreams are gone, and this is why I am here today,” Comer said.

Two seniors, Johnathan Ehle and Evan Carnes, brought Comer to the school through the Drive Now — Text Later presentation from St. Vincent Indianapolis Hospital as part of the “Think First” safety project for the seniors’ advanced business class.

Staff members from the Trauma Education and Injury Prevention Department at St. Vincent host the presentation at schools around the state. The program is designed to influence teens, families and community leaders to change dangerous driving habits.

Lewis Jacobson, St. Vincent trauma doctor, spoke with the students and explained how it only takes an instant to change their lives or the lives of a friend or stranger.

“We hope we can convince you today that no text is more important than your life,” he said.

The two seniors thought the safety presentation was ideal to not only meet their class requirements of doing something for the community but also to bring more light to the serious issue of texting while driving.

“Phone in the pocket while driving — that’s the message,” Carnes said. “This is so preventable, but people, sometimes, they just don’t think.”

According to a news release from St. Vincent, car crashes are the leading cause of death for people ages 15 to 24. According to the National Safety Council, 1.6 million crashes occur each year involving drivers texting.

More than half of the students in the audience admitted they either drive and text or have been in cars where the driver is doing both at the same time, putting their lives and others’ in danger.

Charity Cummiskey, St. Vincent injury prevention and outreach coordinator, explained how as a trauma nurse, she has seen horrific accidents where teens, who often think they are invincible, have been left mangled and unrecognizable because they made the decision to text and drive.

She stunned the students when she showed a photo of her son, Zack Cummiskey, playing basketball, and explained when he was 21, he died instantly in 2011 from a car accident while texting and driving.

“Do you want your parents to go to your graduation or your funeral?” Cummiskey asked. “It’s your choice.”

At the close of the presentation, high school students were encouraged to take a pledge to not text and drive.

School groups can register for St. Vincent’s one-hour text/drive simulation presentation by calling 317-338-7256 or by emailing Charity.Cummiskey@stvincent.org.

St. Vincent’s Drive Now — Text Later campaign started in 2012 and thousands of high school students have taken the pledge to stay safe while driving.

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Kristy Deer is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3262 or kdeer@greenfieldreporter.com.