Distracted driving: A cautionary tale

LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — Three-point-four seconds was all it took to change Samuel Howell’s life forever. He was 18 on February 14, 2005 when he was behind the wheel, and reached for his cell phone.

“I reached for my cell phone, which was on the passenger seat and fell to the floor, so reached for it and when I came up I was off the road,” said Samuel Howell. He’s not angry, but does refer to himself as “one of the unlucky ones.”

Even with that statement, he tries to look at the positive, pointing out that with his level of injuries — a crushed skull, shattered vertebrae, and ruptured organs, there’s a good chance his spinal cord may have ruptured and he could have died.

A sheriff’s deputy who alerted his parents to the crash in fact told them at first that it didn’t look good that the teen would survive.

His mom, Maureen Howell, still remembers cutting strawberries into hearts, waiting for her son to come home, when she received the news.

“It was devastating. Here’s our Eagle Scout, brilliant child, with an incredible future ahead of him and in just 3.4 seconds everything changed,” said Maureen Howell.

From then on, everything changed.

Samuel Howell’s family tells 24 Hour News 8 he had won the International Science fair in 2003, received $80,000 in scholarships and had been working at Harvard before the accident.  After, he was in a coma for months, and couldn’t walk or talk for two years.

His doctors told his parents he would never walk, or feed himself ever again.

He now walks with a cane, and talks to groups to try to help prevent others from making a similar mistake.

“We’re so pleased to have what we have now, but our hearts will always be broken for what he lost there’s no way to get past that we’ll always have a hole,” said Maureen Howell.

Samuel and Maureen now speak to groups about the dangers of distracted driving.  They spoke at the Michigan Traffic Safety Summit

Samuel said he gets upset when he hears about people still driving distracted, thinking it won’t happen to them.

“I have a feeling they’re foolish to make those decisions it took one silly mistake on my part and my life was forever changed,” said Samuel Howell.  “Make the right decisions or else they will be your last decisions.”

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