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Diveeta Thompson will share the story of her son, Rodney, and his texting-while-driving death on “Oprah.”

Putting her grief into action

Mom takes to ‘Oprah’ stage to boost ‘no texting’ pledge

Diveeta Thompson never shies from telling the story.

It used to be just her and a therapist, tucked away in a small room. But it never worked. She would talk about her son, how he made her laugh and about the hurt of losing him. Then she’d walk out the door, feeling as if she hadn’t accomplished anything.

So she began appearing in front of auditoriums full of teenagers or even the occasional television camera. No matter how painful it became, she told anyone who would listen about her son, 18-year-old Rodney Thompson, who took a curve on Dicke Road with a cell phone in his hand and wrapped his car around a utility pole.

Now, she’ll tell her story to the audience of Oprah Winfrey’s show.

The Fort Wayne mother is scheduled to appear on Friday’s telecast of “Oprah,” where she’ll recount how her son died while texting and driving two months before Christmas in 2008. The show will be devoted to Winfrey’s “No Phone Zone” campaign, aimed at showing the dangers of talking on the phone or texting while driving.

“It’s bittersweet for me,” Thompson said of recounting her son’s story. “Just saving one life, or the potential of saving one life, and keeping another family from experiencing the excruciating pain, it’s healing. It’s therapeutic.”

Thompson has been the face of Parkview Hospital’s “Don’t Text and Drive” campaign, filming commercials and making appearances at schools in hopes of educating people, especially teens, about the dangers involved in sending or receiving texts while behind the wheel.

Still, she can’t help but see people on the road, their fingertips on a keypad.

“It sends chills through me, literally,” she said.

According to the Detroit Free Press, Gov. Jennifer Granholm of Michigan will sign a bill banning texting while driving on the air during the Winfrey telecast.

So far, several attempts to enact legislation to ban texting while driving in Indiana have failed.

It’s hard to calculate just how many people text and drive or how many crashes are the result of texting and driving. In Rodney’s case, a passenger in the car he was driving told authorities after the fact he had been texting, but many cases may go unreported.

“We really don’t know how many people are involved, because a significant number of people won’t even admit they were texting if they got into a crash,” said Dr. Mary Aaland, a local surgeon and director of the trauma department at Parkview Hospital. “It’s difficult to reflect scientifically.”

And it’s nearly impossible for police investigators to determine whether a fatal crash is a result of texting and driving. Police would have to obtain search warrants to get into phones found at crash scenes, which would mean mounds of red tape.

Even then, texts sent or received near the time of the crash wouldn’t prove that’s what caused it, according to police. Leeway time would have to be factored, and it would be all guesswork.

“Without some in-car video that shows the person actually texting at the time of the crash, there’s no way to prove if texting and driving caused a crash,” said Sgt. Steve Stone, Allen County’s Sheriff’s Department spokesman.

Still, Thompson knows in her heart that it distracts drivers, and it’s what took her son, a Homestead High School student at the time.

After the crash, Thompson was met with an outpouring from her son’s friends and classmates. They sent her letters, came to her home and grieved with her. Many of Rodney’s friends keep in touch 1 1/2 years later.

One of the boys planned to come by Thompson’s house Tuesday just to check on her lawn. Another called just to tell her he was in town, and he asked whether they could get together. Others reach out through Facebook and e-mail.

They can’t forget Rodney, they tell her, the guy who made everyone at school laugh.

“You know, there’s a time to live and there’s a time to die,” said Thompson, who remembers how Rodney kissed and told her he loved her the day of his crash. “I may not have had Rodney here as long as I wished, but what a blessing to know he lived a righteous way.”

jeffwiehe@jg.net

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