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Tragic Utah accident profiled in new anti-texting YouTube video

Published August 24, 2013 1:02 pm

Famed director Werner Herzog makes a short documentary about the potentially lethal dangers of distracted driving.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Reggie Shaw doesn't even remember what he texted to his girlfriend. But just seconds after he pressed the "send" button on his cellphone, the act of texting in the car cost the lives of two Cache County men and forever changed his own.

"I think back now and it made sense [that I was texting while driving]," Shaw said about the fatal accident Sept. 22, 2006, that killed James A. Furfaro, 38, and Keith P. O'Dell, 50. "I used my phone when I drove all the time. To me, that was just driving."

Nearly seven years later, the incident still haunts Shaw and the families of the victims. But he and Megan O'Dell, the daughter of Keith O'Dell, were able to retell the tragedy and its devastating impact in a new 30-minute documentary on YouTube directed by legendary German filmmaker Werner Herzog ("Grizzly Man," "Aguirre: The Wrath of God").

The video, "From One Second to the Next," was commissioned by cellphone carrier AT&T and released Aug. 7. By Wednesday, it already had amassed more than 1.9 million views. The makers also plan to provide the short to government agencies, safety organizations and schools.

The video profiles four families across the country who were affected by critical or fatal car accidents resulting from a texting driver. The film was commissioned for an anti-texting-and-driving campaign also backed by Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon. (Learn more about the "It Can Wait" campaign at http://www.itcanwait.com.)

Herzog met with Shaw and Megan O'Dell last May to interview and film them about how the incident changed their lives and turned Shaw into an activist to help stop people from texting while driving.

"If we can reach that one person each time we talk about it, or if there's an article about it, then it's worth it," O'Dell, 25, of Logan, said about making the film.

On that rainy morning in 2006, Shaw, then 19, was on Route 30 near Logan in his Chevy Tahoe when he was texting his girlfriend. At the same time, Furfaro and Keith O'Dell, both rocket scientists for Alliant Techsystems, were on their way to work.

A witness behind Shaw saw him weaving in and out of the lane three times. That's when Shaw crossed the center line, clipped the victims' car, causing it to strike a third vehicle. Furfaro and O'Dell were killed instantly.

Meanwhile, Megan O'Dell was in her apartment and had trouble sleeping because she sensed something was wrong.

"It was just this different sense that my gut was saying something was not right," she remembered.

Later that morning, a neighbor of her mother's arrived at O'Dell's apartment and told her about her father's death. "I didn't believe it," she said about the news. "I just didn't want to believe it."

It wasn't until months later, after police subpoenaed Shaw's cellphone records, that Shaw realized his texting caused the accident. He pleaded guilty to two counts of negligent homicide and was sentenced to 30 days in jail and 150 hours of community service. He also spoke to the Utah Legislature in 2009, when lawmakers passed a bill outlawing texting and driving.

More than 100,000 accidents involving texting while driving occur each year, according to the National Safety Council. Nearly half of commuters admit to texting while driving, according to a recent AT&T survey, yet 98 percent agree that sending a text or email while driving is not safe.

University of Utah psychology professor David Strayer, who has conducted nationally recognized research on the effects of using cellphones while driving, said his studies show that texting while driving can result in an eight times greater chance of getting in an accident. In contrast, driving while legally under the influence of alcohol — a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 — results in a four-times greater chance of an accident.

"They just drive differently," Strayer said of those who drive while texting. "They swerve all over the place. At least 38 states have outlawed texting. The question is what's keeping the other 12 from doing it?"

It took years for O'Dell to overcome her hatred for Shaw and what he did to her father, she said.

"It was enough, that if I had the opportunity, I would have really contemplated killing him," she said. "I hated him so much because he took my father away just before I was getting married, and my dad was my best friend."

It wasn't until O'Dell and Shaw both were invited to appear on Oprah Winfrey's television show in 2010 to talk about the dangers of texting and driving that O'Dell began to see his remorse and willingness to tell people about the accident.

"This kid has courage to talk about something so huge," she said. "To hear him and see how emotional he was talking about it, I said, 'I need to try and forgive this kid.' "

And she has, she said. The two have since become friends while campaigning against the dangers of texting and driving, and both appear in Herzog's film together.

"I love Megan, and I'm extremely grateful for that forgiveness," Shaw said. "She helped me in ways that no one else can."

In the meantime, Shaw said the experience of making the film has helped him as well, and he plans to continue talking to groups about the dangers of texting and driving.

"That was one of the most difficult things that I have done," he said about being interviewed by Herzog for the film. "But I'm grateful for the experience. He [Herzog] challenged me and he questioned me in ways I've never been questioned. It opened my eyes to things and remotivated me to continue [to speak out]. It's something I'm very passionate about, and I don't want anybody to make that same mistake."

vince@sltrib.com

Google+: +Vincent Horiuchi —

Utah's law against texting and driving

In 2009, Utah enacted a law making it illegal to text and drive for a driver of any age. It is a class C misdemeanor and has resulted in one of the toughest penalties of any anti-texting law in the country.

A person guilty of killing someone while texting and driving is penalized as harshly as a drunken driver. Exceptions to the law are if the driver texts during a medical emergency, reporting a road hazard or criminal activity, or when providing roadside or medical assistance.