After losing her daughter in a fatal car wreck due to a distracted driver, Gail Lambert learned that life could be dramatically altered in only seconds.
OKLAHOMA CITY— After losing her daughter in a fatal car wreck due to a distracted driver, Gail Lambert learned that life could be dramatically altered in only seconds.
Lambert’s daughter, Bobbi White, 32, was a Miami native, a 9th grade Owasso English school teacher and a single mom of two children- Sydney, 9, and Mason, 13. White was described as big-hearted, loving and passionate about teaching.
In May 2016, White was completely stopped in her vehicle, waiting to go through a construction zone with her children in the backseat. A truck going full speed, which was said to be anywhere from 60-75 mph, hit the back of White’s car.
“It pushed her into the car in front of them and down an incline next to the bridge where they went down to the bottom,” Lambert said.
White was pronounced unresponsive at the scene, and despite the hospital's efforts to save her, none prevailed. Lambert said the children were badly hurt but survived with broken legs, internal injuries and other serious damages.
“The criminal part of that is coming up,” Lambert said. “We can’t actually say she was hit by someone who was using his phone. We can only say that he was distracted because that’s what he has admitted to. All he said was ‘I did not see her.’ Everyone is saying that they were all stopped there for the longest time, why didn’t he see her?”
Lambert is currently the caretaker of her grandchildren, who are staying strong after undergoing surgeries and physical therapy.
Even before the accident, Lambert said her daughter had concerns regarding students with their phones.
“She said, ‘It really worries me the way the kids are so engrossed in their phones,’” Lambert said. “We noticed kids crossing the streets at the schools, and they had their heads down looking at their phones, headphones in and were completely oblivious to any cars around them, as well as the drivers on their phones, too. All of this is why I’m focusing mainly on the worst distraction out there, which is cell phones. We’re hoping for the elimination of handheld devices in school zones and construction zones.”
She said her daughter was her best friend and was always willing to listen without passing judgment.
“I don’t think she had any idea how special she was to people,” Lambert said. “It was very, very overwhelming. The first inkling we got of what people thought of her was when she was in the hospital, and the waiting room was absolutely full. I remember when the doctor first talked with us, we walked out to the waiting room to see if anyone was there who wanted information. I said ‘I don’t know who is here for Bobbi” and the entire room stood up. It took me back.”
Lambert said it’s really special for her to hear memories about White from former students and the countless lives she had touched.
“When you hear from her former students or kids who knew her and hear what a positive impact she has made on their lives, it’s such a great feeling,” Lambert said.
“Some of her students sent videos of Bobbi in the classroom being goofy with them,” she added. “I also recalled her talking to me about a student that didn’t have any shoes, and she got together with some other people and got the student shoes. That was just normal for me to hear her doing something like that, but the story comes back to me, and that’s just the way she was. It takes someone being out of your life for you to realize what an impact they were.”
Lambert has now made it her life’s mission to keep distracted drivers off the road and implemented the “Drop & Drive” campaign in August. The campaign issues signs with the hashtags #BobbiWhite and #DistractedDriving with a picture of a crossed out cellphone.
“We know it’s not right to be on our phones and drive, and it just takes something drastic to make you aware of how bad the problem really is,” Lambert said. “There are a lot of people who have said that they will no longer pick up a phone in a car because of what happened to Bobbi.”
Several schools, communities and cities are in support of the “Drop & Drive” campaign. The campaign has influenced schools in Owasso, Jenks, Collinsville, Commerce and nationwide. Tulsa and Oklahoma City are currently awaiting approval to put their signs up, and more are waiting to receive their signs.
“Jenks is a rival in Owasso in football, and to hear that it doesn’t matter and takes a backseat to the whole campaign and what we’re trying to accomplish that they didn’t think twice, it’s great to know people are coming together and agreeing that this is an issue,” Lambert said. “When people are wanting these signs that tells me they really want some change.”
Senator J.J. Dossett (D-Owasso), a former Owasso school teacher, worked with White’s family in order to file the “Bobbi White Act.” The proposal prohibits the usage of any electronic communication devices by Oklahoma drivers, with the exception of using a hands-free accessory, and fines punishable up to $100.
The bill would also fine the driver up to $5,000 if a violation occurs in a school or construction zone and results in an accident with injuries. The fine would be raised up to $10,000 in the result of a death. The current state legislation only makes texting and driving illegal. Unfortunately, Senator Dossett was unavailable for comment by press time.
“I contacted Dossett regarding the campaign, and he said he was excited about getting it done,” Lambert said. “I told him I was excited but anxious at the same time since people in other states are asking for the signs. He said he wants to look how we could get this law spread all over.”
The bill will make its way to lawmakers in February.
Megan Thomas of Reston, Virginia started an online petition on www.standunited.org to be sent to Oklahoma State Legislature to enact the “Bobbi White Act.” As of Wednesday afternoon, the online petition had 250 signatures signed and only needs 500 more signatures.
The petition reads:
“To Oklahoma State Legislature:
While Oklahoma currently prohibits texting and driving, it does not ban driver’s license holders from using handheld electronics for other purposes.
Texting is not the only form of distracted driving. Fourteen states—California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia—and the District of Columbia have banned hand-held phone use by all drivers (ncsl.org).
Just a few seconds of distraction can permanently take away an irreplaceable life, like that of Bobbi White. Enact the Bobbi White Act so that Oklahoma residents do not lose any more loved ones to distracted driving.
The petition can be found at www.standunited.org/petition/enforce-the-bobbi-white-act
Kimberly W. Barker is a staff writer for the Miami News-Record. She can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @MiamiNews_hound.