Dad of teen killed in crash: ‘Text can wait’

Jacob Freybler (Family photo)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — For Jim and Diane Freybler, the heartbreak began with a knock at their door late Wednesday night.

“Parents’ worst nightmare,” Jim Freybler said, standing in the front yard of his Grand Rapids west side home, clutching a photo of his son Jacob. “…To have your son coming home to help you and 11 o’clock at night, and he doesn’t show up. But a county sheriff shows up with a crisis group.”

Jacob Freybler, 17, was headed home on 8th Avenue near Marne at about 10:45 p.m. when his southbound car crossed the centerline and struck another vehicle.

“He had his seat belt on. The air bag went off. It didn’t matter. Head-on’s head-on,” said his father.

Jacob was pinned in the vehicle and pronounced dead at the scene.

The teen, who fought back at an early age from a disease that left him with one kidney and loved to fish, would have entered his senior year at Kenowa Hills High School in the fall.

Deputies found a cellphone in Jacob’s lap. A friend confirmed she had sent him a text about the time of the crash.

“It just breaks your heart,” Freybler told 24 Hour News 8. “And you kids, you kids think you know it all. Boy, you got a lot to learn.”

Among the things they need to learn is what happens when you simply look at a text while driving.

Jacob was traveling around the posted speed limit — 55 mph — just before the crash.

Investigators say that on average, drivers take their eyes of the road for five seconds to read a text. In that time, at about 55 mph, your vehicle can go 100 yards — the length of a football field.

But you missed it. Your eyes were on the phone.

“That phone call can wait. It can wait. That text message can wait,” said Freybler, who spoke to 24 Hour News 8 less than 12 hours after he learned his son had died.

While the pain was fresh, he and his wife felt the need to talk about their son’s death in hopes other families can avoid a similar tragedy.

“You don’t want to go through what I’m going through right now,” Freybler said. “Parents, you gotta pound it into your kids’ heads that you look down on that phone, you use that phone in the car, pull over, get off the road, whatever you gotta do.”

Many kids promise they won’t text behind the wheel, but it’s just too tempting.

Ottawa County Sheriff’s Department Sgt. Steve Austin says one way to deal with the problem is to remove the temptation. Teens — or anyone who has a habit of texting while driving — should turn off their phone or at least put it in the back seat, where they can’t reach it while they’re driving.

Fifty-nine-year-old Timothy Andersen was driving the other vehicle involved in the wreck. Andersen, who was also wearing his seat belt, sustained broken bones, but is expected to be OK. His 33-year-old passenger was not hurt.

The Wendy’s restaurant on Alpine Avenue where Jacob worked was closed Thursday evening as a vigil was held. Attendees released balloons into the sky in remembrance.

A vigil for 17-year-old Jacob Freybler outside the Wendy's where he worked. (June 19, 2014)
(A vigil for 17-year-old Jacob Freybler outside the Wendy’s where he worked. June 19, 2014)


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