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Matt Logan of Pine Island urges law enforcement officers to keep fighting against distracted driving. Logan’s daughter, Deej Logan, a Byron High School senior, died after hitting the back of a school bus while texting. Her vehicle’s cruise control was set on 63 mph at the time of the crash. (Paula Quam/Forum News Service)

A tearful message about driving

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A typical Minnesota Department of Transportation conference might be what many outside of that business would consider a little drab, as facts and figures regarding road safety fly.

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But the one held in Detroit Lakes last Wednesday was different. It put tears in the eyes of some of the most seasoned law enforcement personnel.

That’s because Matt Logan, the father of a Minnesota teenager who died while texting and driving, was there to tell her story.

The second annual Toward Zero Deaths Workshop was a gathering of West Central Minnesota’s roadway engineers and various sectors of law enforcement.

Logan was living proof that one of their highest priorities this year – distracted driving – is well worth their efforts.

DEEJ LOGAN

September 2012: It was the first day of Deej Logan’s senior year, a day her father said she was excited for. On her way home that afternoon, Deej started to text. She slammed her car into the back of a school bus with the cruise control set at 63 miles per hour.

Her father told the crowd how he came upon the scene where traffic was backed up. He had no idea the accident was his daughter’s.

“I could plainly see the school bus and what appeared to be crews working at the back end of the school bus, however, I couldn’t see what they were working on,” said Logan, who knew Deej would possibly have been traveling that road.

“That pit in your stomach… the one you can’t explain… was there very prominently,” said Logan, who walked up and tried to find out about the accident.

He was told to go back and sit in his car while a law enforcement officer collected information; when he returned to Logan’s vehicle, the officer asked for his ID.

When he looked at it, “he didn’t need to say a word,” said Logan. “It was extremely obvious that it was indeed my daughter.”

It took roughly an hour to extract Deej from the vehicle that had been wedged underneath the school bus, which was only carrying two children, who were not hurt.

“And then she came,” said Logan. “I’ll never forget that. I could see her strapped in, covered up… could see her neck brace… loading her up into the back of Mayo I.”

Logan, his wife Megan and their three other children waited at the hospital as doctors assessed Deej’s many injuries.

“And as they explained her injuries it became very apparent that she would probably not recover,” said Logan. “And then those words… those words that as parents you fear the entire life of your child: ‘There’s nothing we can do. She is not going to pull through.’ ”

Logan says Deej died without ever realizing what had happened.

The investigation showed her composing a text during the time of her crash, a fact that was hard for her family to come to terms with.

“She had always been the one grabbing our phones out of our hands… she knew better,” said Logan, whose painful testimony visibly touched those on the front lines of battling this growing problem.

“I know you guys see a lot of numbers, a lot of statistics,” he told the crowd. “What you do affects people. Keep Deej in mind when thinking about… how we can drive home to youth the reality of what these choices make.”

THE EFFORTS

Distracted driving is front and center for Minnesota law enforcement officers, as they wrapped up April’s “Distracted Driving” wave.

Deej’s story was written up and mass produced on informational cards that officers in south central Minnesota would hand out to drivers they believed to be distracted.

“So when an officer pulled somebody over for that, they would hand the driver the card,” said Kristine Hernandez, statewide TZD coordinator.

Hernandez says they hope trying untraditional methods like this will hit home for people, as the problem of texting and distracted driving worsens.

Deej’s story was the last of three videos produced by the Minnesota State Patrol aimed at young drivers who speed, text or drink while driving. The video is being shown to students at area high schools.

Minnesota officers cracked down on texting and driving through different methods, including riding on buses and taking pictures of drivers they could clearly see texting and then radioing to officers in squad cars who could pull them over.

THE FACTS

Tom Swenson, MnDOT traffic engineer, presented information to workshop attendees where Minnesota drivers were in terms of fatalities.

Statistics show there were 388 fatal accidents in Minnesota last year, with 97 of them coming from the West Central region.

Out of the counties in that region, Becker and Mahnomen counties topped the list of serious injury rates, while Mahnomen was also on top of the “fatalities” list.

Alcohol-related serious and fatal accidents are down slightly in the region, while speed-related accidents went up.

Fatal and serious accidents due to distraction hit a high five-year peak in 2012, but showed a decline last year.

CHANGES ON ROADS

Minnesota drivers who take those rural roads may be noticing more flashing lights these days.

MnDOT is ramping up its efforts to install a Rural Conflict Intersection Warning System in an attempt to avoid deadly intersection crashes that plague rural roads.

More signs being installed will flash a warning to drivers when traffic is detected coming from their right angle roads.

More rumble strips are being installed as well to “wake up” drivers who are wandering out of their lanes, but this year, due to noise complaints stemming from those loud rumbling tools, MnDOT engineers are testing “mumble strips.”

“They are engineered to push the frequency down, so the sound doesn’t travel as far off the road,” said MnDOT State Aid Engineer Mark Vizecky, who also showed the crowd how the popularity of roundabouts is making rounds about Minnesota.

“We’re up to about 150-160 of these around Minnesota now,” he said, adding that the mere design of roundabouts forces drivers to slow down.

GETTING BETTER

Minnesota hospitals are also joining the Toward Zero Deaths efforts.

Minnesota’s Department of Health Trauma System Coordinator Chris Ballard talked about the strides being made in trying to save drivers with serious injuries. He says the statewide health system has made tremendous strides over the past eight years in getting most hospitals equipped, trained and labeled “trauma centers.”

Now, however, the real scrutinizing begins.

Ballard says hospitals are taking an approach similar to the airline industry, which has seen a dramatic drop in accidents.

“And that’s because they look for evidence that we could have fixed or prevented,” said Ballard. “Hospitals are doing the same thing. They look at the case and pick apart every last bit of it and they ask the questions. Could we have done this faster… better? Was that decision in the patient’s best interest or should we have done something different? And every time you go through one of those you get better and better and better.”

Ballard also says the health system in Minnesota has also made an effort to “de-godify” doctors the way the airline industry did with pilots.

He says now more than ever, hospitals are recognizing that while doctors are leaders of a team, other members of that team, including nurses, nursing assistants, EMS and others, also have valuable opinions.

“Those are the things that are going to save lives, when you have a team of professionals working together,” said Ballard.

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