Bellefontaine Examiner

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Son’s death caused by texting driver

Rusty's story

John-T-Gordon

ABOVE: John T. Gordon, a part-time police officer with Upper Sandusky and also a Marion County bailiff, was killed in a crash caused by a texting driver in May 2008. His father, John P.T. Gordon, now presents “Rusty’s Story,” a distracted driver presentation at area schools, in his son’s memory. (PHOTO | RUSTY’S STORY)

FRONT PAGE PHOTO: Riverside Schools student C.J. Miller, left, talks with John P.T. Gordon, center, following the retired police officer and bailiff’s distracted driver presentation “Rusty’s Story” at the school Thursday. Also pictured is Riverside High School Principal Andy McGill. (EXAMINER PHOTO | MANDY LOEHR)

It has been only a few short years since retired police officer and bailiff John P.T. Gordon lost his son, John Travis “Rusty” Gordon, in a crash caused by a texting driver.

But the Marion area resident and Bellefontaine native is now sharing with area teens and adults about his son’s life and also a number of statistics about dangerous driving habits during his distracted driver presentation entitled, “Rusty’s Story.”

Mr. Gordon spoke to about 300 Riverside Local Schools students in grades 7-12 during an assembly Thursday, noting that recent studies now point to texting while driving as the biggest killer of teenagers.

“It has surpassed all other causes of death for teenagers, including suicide, homicide and drug use.

“Why is it so dangerous? Texting requires three things — your visual attention, manual skills and also cognitive thought. Doing all of these things takes so much of your attention off of the roadway.

“Also, the average text message takes about 4.6 seconds to send, and in that time, driving at 55 miles per hour, you would be driving about the length of a football field.”

The retired Marion Police officer and Marion County bailiff also noted other distractions while driving that are hazardous for teenagers, from making a cell phone call, to eating and drinking, grooming, and interacting with passengers.

“Teen drivers are most likely to die in crashes where distractions are factors. Teens are just learning how to drive, and driving is a fine art.”

As for possible consequences of texting and driving, the recently enacted statewide texting-while-driving ban makes this a primary offense for teenagers and a secondary offense for adults.

For teens, using a mobile device while driving carries a 60-day license suspension and also a fine. A second violation carries with it a fine and an even lengthier license suspension.

“Teens can also expect that their insurance costs will be even higher than usual if they receive these violations because they will have to get high-risk insurance,” Mr. Gordon said.

Beyond the possible legal consequences of this behavior, the presenter noted the life-impacting ramifications of texting while driving and other distracted driving habits.  

“You can make the choice about whether you will be involved in a crash that will kill you or someone else.

“It’s not bad people who are doing this, but good people are making mistakes. It’s about recognizing these behaviors and making a change.”

As for “Rusty’s Story,” Mr. Gordon’s son was a 1991 Harding High School graduate and an Eagle Scout. He worked as a bailiff with his father in Marion County and also as a part-time police officer with the Upper Sandusky Police Department.

At the time of the May 11, 2008, crash, he was 35, and had an 11-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter with his wife.

The younger Gordon was driving his motorcycle on State Route 4 when a 20-year-old man driving a pickup struck his motorcycle.

“He was my best friend,” Mr. Gordon said of his late son. “We were the only father-and-son pair who worked together as bailiffs in the whole state.”

“His mother has become very depressed since his death. He was her only son.”

Since the time of the crash, Mr. Gordon and his wife, Lois, have been advocates combating the distracted driving issue. They recorded their story together for the U.S. Department of Transportation’s video series “Faces of Distracted Driving,” that can be viewed on www.youtube.com.

During the video, Mrs. Gordon shares that she also lost her 17-year-old brother to a car crash when she was younger, and always hoped that she would never have to experience this pain again.

“It was like all of my fears came to reality,” she said about her son’s death.

The Gordons also testified before state legislators during discussions leading up to the current statewide texting ban.

In closing, Mr. Gordon urged students to sign a pledge to refrain from distracted driving and also to take the pledge home with them to have their parents sign it as well.

High School Principal Andy McGill said he also wants to take the pledge alongside students.

“Nobody in here wants to go to your funeral because you were texting and driving,” he said to the pupils.

“I’ll admit that I’m guilty of texting and driving, too. I want to take that pledge with you. I can change my behavior.”

For additional information about distracted driving, visit the Rusty’s Story page on Facebook, projectyellowlight.com, or www.distraction.gov.

 

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