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DeWine: 'Distracted driving must become as culturally unacceptable as drunk driving'

Posted: 12:59 AM, Apr 26, 2019
Updated: 2019-04-26 01:25:00-04
WCPO kathy strack with brother mark sevilla.jpg
WCPO kathy strack with dewine.jpg

The truck driver who struck and killed Kathy Strack’s brother on I-71 had been texting for nearly 42 miles before the fatal collision.

In a matter of seconds, she said Thursday night, Christopher Thornhill lost control of his tractor-trailer, sideswiped one car, careened across the median and hit 45-year-old Mark Sevilla at over 70 mph.

Sevilla died instantly.

“It was a nightmare,” Strack said. “It was a nightmare going through it, my sister and I finding out, having to tell my children, just horrible.”

Thornhill lived. He also deleted the texts, attempting to avoid the guilty verdict that eventually arrived alongside an eight-year prison sentence in January 2016.

Losing her brother sent Strack on a mission to impose harsher penalties on drivers caught texting on the road — even the ones who don’t ultimately hurt another person. Her organization, 2 Eyes Just Drive, was created to save other families from receiving the news that changed hers forever.

It has a powerful new ally in Columbus. A task force convened by Gov. Mike DeWine announced Thursday that distracted driving had caused over 120 deaths in Hamilton County and nearly 80,000 crashes statewide between 2014 and 2019.

"Distracted driving must become as culturally unacceptable as drunk driving is today,” DeWine said in a news conference announcing the group’s findings.

Current Ohio law punishes distracted driving with a $100 ticket, which the recipient is not required to pay if they attend a driving class instead.

The task force recommended a stronger measure: A hands-free law for all Ohio drivers that would carry the same penalties as operating a vehicle under the influence.

If such a law is passed, it will still be too late for Strack’s brother — a contractor who she said loved to fish and often helped modify veterans’ homes to make them more accessible.

She hopes it can save someone else.

“It just takes that second,” she said. “Nothing's that important. Nothing's worth a text, a Tweet, a Snap, a call, a post, just put it down. Pull over if you need to."