Amanda Umscheid of Paxico said she’ll never get over knowing that her 19-year-old sister died while sending her a text as she drove near Manhattan, Kan., in the spring of 2009.
The last thing Ashley Umscheid did before her pickup flipped end over end, throwing her into a ditch, was tap “K” on her phone. Short for OK, it was a reply to a text from her older sister. Amanda Umscheid, 29, didn’t receive the message and wasn’t able to speak to her sister before Ashley died a few days later from injuries she suffered in the wreck.
“Having a Highway Patrol officer write in a police report that a text message sent at 12:04 p.m. is the reason she’s dead — knowing that you were the person she was talking to at the time she was killed — isn’t something that will ever go away,” Amanda Umscheid says in a short documentary that’s part of a national campaign by AT&T.
Her message is part of television and radio commercials, billboards, flyers and pamphlets. She also travels about three times a month to high schools and colleges across the country to speak about the dangers of texting while driving.
“It’s hard to explain what it’s like to lose a sister or your daughter,” she said. “The text can wait.”
Kansas reported 495 wrecks involving cellphones in 2011, with three deaths and 234 injuries, The Kansas City Star reported. In Missouri, from January through October 2011, there were 1,490 accidents involving cellphones, with nine deaths and 673 injuries. A study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that drivers are 23 times more likely to crash if they are texting.
Kansas is one of 39 states that have banned texting while driving. In Missouri, it’s illegal for people under 21 to text while driving. Manhattan is the only city in Kansas to ban any cellphone use by drivers.
Ashley Umscheid sent about 100 texts a day. “It was the way that we kept in touch,” her sister said.
The sisters leaned on each other since their father died of congestive heart failure in 2000.
“That’s what we were talking about the day Ashley had her wreck,” said Umscheid, who grew up in Blue Springs and now is an administrative specialist at Kansas State. “We were texting about how so much had changed in the nine years since dad’s death.”
Ashley had just finished her freshman year at Kansas State, where she was majoring in agri-business. She had been a 4.0 student at Grain Valley High School. She was driving on Kansas 18 to Manhattan to spend times with friends when the accident happened.
The driver-side wheel of Ashley’s pickup drifted off the road into a median. She overcorrected and the vehicle flipped.
Fifteen minutes after Umscheid’s last text to her sister, her mother called to say Ashley had been in an accident. Umscheid cried all the way to the hospital in Topeka where Ashley had been flown by helicopter.
“I thought, `It couldn’t have been Ashley. I had just been talking to her and she was fine,”‘ Umscheid said.
The Highway Patrol found Ashley’s phone on the road, scratched but still working. Umscheid has kept the phone and their last conversation.