Smarter Driving: Distracted driving deaths unite families

Ben Labonosky and Casey Feldman didn’t know each other, but their deaths under similar circumstances have bonded their families even though they lives hundreds of miles apart.

The Labonosky family’s loss was noted last month during the 2nd annual Memorial Benefit for Ben Labonosky at the Colchester Fish & Game Lodge. The loss of Casey Feldman, a promising student at Fordham University in New York City, had occurred earlier and led her family to create a website to try to halt more senseless fatalities like the one they had to endure.

The families crossed paths when a Labonosky family member came across Joel Feldman’s website, and Ben’s obituary suggested making donations in his memory to the Feldman nonprofit.

Casey Feldman was a young, ambitious woman ready to enter her senior year at Fordham in July 2009. She was raised in Springfield, Penn., and was an honor student who threw herself into all she did. Her passion was writing and journalism. She anchored her high school’s news program, wrote and edited the school newspaper, and served as senior editor of the school yearbook. Soon after arriving at Fordham, where she majored in communication and media studies, she joined the staff of the Manhattan campus newspaper, The Observer.

Casey was walking to her summer job as a waitress in Ocean City, N.J., when she was struck and killed by a van in a crosswalk at a four-way stop in broad daylight. The driver of the van was a 58-year-old man who claimed he never saw her. He was distracted when he reached for his GPS while holding his iced tea.

Following the tragedy, her parents began the Casey Feldman Memorial Foundation to raise money to assist in the financial support of individuals, groups and institutions whose interests align with Casey’s. Her parents also developed the site EndDD.org, which sponsors the foundation site, to carry the message of the dangers of distracted driving across the country.

End Distracted Driving is a non-profit organization that has presented its message to 46 of our 50 states, with Joel having facilitated presentations in 32 of those states.

Casey’s story is also a part of the U. S. Department of Transportation’s “Faces of Distracted Driving” series on YouTube. The video was produced by Joel, Casey’s father, and is the only video in the series created by a member of the public.

I strongly urge everyone to visit caseyfeldmanfoundation.org, EndDD.org, and search YouTube for the Faces of Distracted Driving series.

This leads us back to Ben Labonosky. On July 16, 2017, Ben, 57, was riding his motorcycle northbound on Route 85 in Amston, heading to the Twin Lakes Café for lunch. When he began to slow down and take the left into the cafe parking lot, a car following behind Ben failed to stop, striking the rear of the motorcycle, sending it 100 feet down the road, and tossing Ben into the air. He died two days later.

The 20-year old and his 18-year-old passenger were not injured in the crash. To this day, Ben’s daughters do not know what had distracted the driver. The driver was charged with negligent homicide, traveling unreasonably fast and following too closely. What puzzles me is he wasn’t arrested until April 20, 2018, nine months after the accident.

Ben was a member of the Branded Ones Motorcycle Club, which also had the idea something needed to be done to educate people about the dangers of distracted driving. When Ben’s daughter Jamie learned of this, the seeds were planted, and along with an all-female riding club, the Libelle Sisters RG, the two clubs created the annual benefit.

Their main goal each year is to fund distracted driving campaigns. When they connected with Joel Feldman, they found a path to help Joel’s campaign and to reach out at a national level.

One of the messages Jamie wants to dispel is the images some people have of motorcyclists. Jamie knows motorcycles are always evolving, and the cyclists are always learning ways to improve their riding skills. The motorcyclists are concerned drivers aren’t taking the time to truly understand the new features of their vehicles when they upgrade to a newer and more advanced model.

Features such as the display screens on dashboards are leading to further distractions, and responsible cyclists are concerned for the behavior of a driver behind the wheel of a car with these new features.

Everyone is susceptible to distracted driving. People need to become more educated on the methods to reduce these distractions.

In the next column, I will share the thoughts of Joel Feldman, and the message he is pushing to bring more awareness to distracted driving. The Feldmans were special guests at the local benefit.

Lee Edwards of Niantic wants to know how distracted driving has affected your life. Write him at leeaedwards@atlanticbb.net.

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