Oklahoma Family Pleads For Drivers To Put Down Their Phones

Thursday, October 17th 2019, 10:53 pm
By: Brian Dorman

The Oklahoma Highway Safety Office reports distracted driving in Oklahoma caused nearly nine thousand crashes in Oklahoma in 2018, costing 35 people their lives. Lisa Lovelady knows that pain all too well. Her brother, 47-year-old Jarrell Gray, was working for ODOT when he was hit and killed on May 18th, 2016.

"My brother was supervising inmates that day. They were clearing brush. His car hit my brother and pinned him between his car and the wood chipper," Lisa remembers.

Her family rushed to the hospital where Lisa remembers waiting for a long time only to find out that her brother didn't make it.

"The man that hit him was right there in the hospital where we had to see him walk right by us," says Lisa.

That man was 40-year-old Robert Smith. According to court documents, Smith told state troopers he was distracted by his cell phone.

"It changed his life forever it did. He did apologize and he said he wished it was him that had died that day," Lisa says.

Smith pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter. The judge sentenced him to 25 years in prison, with 19 years suspended, if Smith completes one thousand hours of community service and earns his GED.

Lisa says she knows he didn't mean to do it, but nothing brings Jarrel back for her, their brother Mark, or Jarrel's sons Xander, Ben and Nick. Nothing brought Jarrell back for his mom who died last month.

"I think my mom would have lived a little longer had she not had this pain," Lisa belives.

The Oklahoma Highway Safety Office has a motto: A crash is no accident. They believe all crashes are preventable and the pain that the Gray family is feeling could be avoided.

"We all have a responsibility to step up, put the phone down, keep our eyes on the road," says Cody McDonell with the Oklahoma Highway Safety Office.

In 2018 nearly half of distracted crashes in Oklahoma happened on city streets, with a man behind the wheel. They found more crashes happened during the day rather than at night, with drivers between the ages of 15 to 34 behind the wheel. McDonell says while we focused a lot on electronic distractions, the OHSO discovered most crashes happened because the driver was distracted by someone in the vehicle.

"People tend to think of texting and driving. It's a lot more than that anything that takes your mind off the road is a distraction," says McDonell. 

News On 6 rode along with Corporal Matt Rose with the Tulsa Police Department and found it extremely difficult to catch distracted drivers.

"I was pulling up to an intersection earlier today and as soon as I pulled up boom the phone went down and she immediately started grabbing the wheel," Corporal Rose says.

The laws can also be confusing. Drivers are still allowed to hold their phone during a conversation and texting while driving is only illegal while the vehicle is in motion.

Cpl Rose: "I noticed you were texting while you were at the stop light."

Driver: "I just texted my mom to tell her I am on the way."

Cpl Rose: "Well, I was just going to tell you good job because you weren't doing it while you were driving and that's the most important part."

We pulled over one driver who was so distracted she wasn't even sure what happened.

Cpl Rose: "Were you digging around for something over there?"

Driver: "Yea, I dropped something and I was trying to pick it up."

Cpl Rose: "We're trying to focus on distracted driving ma'am."

Driver: "Oh."

Cpl Rose: "And you pretty much hit all the cues."

Corporal Rose let that driver off with a warning, but wants this story to serve as warning to others that something so simple can lead to the pain that the Gray family is feeling right now.

"A phone call or a text just isn't worth it," says Lisa. "It can wait."

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