Mitchell native Justin Iburg spoke to a group of Mitchell High School students Tuesday morning in an attempt to keep them from making the mistake he made almost nine years ago.
On Sept. 20, 2010, Iburg, then 20, checked a text message while driving, causing a chain reaction crash that involved three other vehicles and killed 44-year-old Jon Christensen, who was riding a motorcycle in front of Iburg at the time.
"I was on my way home, and I got a text message. So, as if it was any other time, I pulled it out of my pocket, and I started reading it," Iburg said Tuesday in the high school auditorium. "As I was reading it, I heard a crash, then a bigger crash."
Iburg was indicted on charges of second-degree manslaughter and reckless driving in connection with the crash. He was eventually convicted of reckless driving at trial and was sentenced to give up his license for five years, go to jail for 100 days, spend two years on probation and give 25 presentations on distracted driving.
Iburg has continued to speak about distracted driving beyond what was required for his sentence, and he shared his story with students Friday as part of AAA's "Don't Drive Intoxicated; Don't Drive Intexticated" campaign.
Marilyn Buskohl, who works with AAA, said the campaign focuses on comparing the current prevalence and general acceptance of driving distracted to the way drunk driving used to be seen as not especially dangerous.
"We're hoping to change behaviors so people will recognize that it's not good to drive distracted, either, because you're not only endangering yourself, but you're endangering all road users around you, too," Buskohl said.
Also appearing at the event were victim specialist Cora Olson and Trooper Patrick Bumann, both of the South Dakota Highway Patrol, who told stories of crashes they've seen due to distracted driving.
"The worst thing for me to do is to go to a crash where kids die and I have to knock on their parents' door, and I have to tell them, 'They're not coming home tonight,'" Bumann said. "... It doesn't just affect your families. It affects all the first responder families; it affects the entire family of the person that was killed. Everybody that goes to these scenes, we have to deal with what we see, too."
Bumann cited a AAA study that found 97 percent of drivers say that texting while driving is a serious threat to safety, but 45 percent said they had read a text or email while driving within the past 30 days.
In South Dakota, the penalty for texting and driving is a $100 ticket and two points added to the offender's license. Iburg said that people are 23 times more likely to get in a crash while texting and driving than they are when they're fully focused on driving.
Bumann said that when it comes to distracted driving, it's important not only to avoid it, but to be aware of other drivers nearby who might not be giving the road their full attention. Olson said that information collected by data recorders in vehicles shows what happened leading up to a crash.
"When it comes to these crashes, the evidence that they put together does not lie," Olson said. "Everything you're doing at the time before impact, there's going to be evidence to show what you were doing."
Iburg said he's still doing presentations on distracted driving years after the split-second decision that led to a fatal crash because he's continued to feel guilty.
"All it takes is just that one second, that you could kill someone," he said. "It's not worth it to do those risky things. It can happen so quickly and so easily."