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Teacher tells of own texting while driving accident

By Kathy Chaffin
kchaffin@salisburypost.com
N.C. Highway Patrol troopers trying to educate East Rowan students on the dangers of sending text messages while driving Thursday received some unexpected help from one of the school’s teachers.
Sean Rinehart, who teaches English at East, said he was on his way home from working out at Saginaw Valley State University and was only a mile from his apartment when he started sending a text message on his cell phone.
He accidentally dropped the phone onto the passenger seat of his Ford Taurus and reached to grab it. When he looked back up, Rinehart said, he was headed straight into a Chevy Silverado.
Though he remembers the date well ó September 15, 2005, his 23rd birthday ó Rinehart can recall nothing about the actual impact. “I blacked out,” he said.
When Rinehart came to, he saw that the impact had flipped the Silverado over on its side, and his first thought was that the driver had been killed.
“I thought my whole life was ruined,” he said. “I had no idea what had happened, if it was my fault for the whole texting thing or if it was his for not letting me go through.
“I thought everything I had worked for in college ó I was on the track team and studying to be a teacher ó was just out the window.”
As it turned out, the driver of the Silverado was not injured, and the officers investigating the accident didn’t charge either one of them. Rinehart was in the emergency room of the local hospital when an officer questioned him about what had happened, and he said he admitted to sending a text message while driving.
“They said it was both our faults,” he said. “I obviously shouldn’t have been texting, but he didn’t yield at a yellow light and kept going. He assumed I was going to stop.”
Rinehart, who was in his last year at Saginaw Valley State University at the time, said he spent five hours in the emergency room that day undergoing tests and being treated for injuries. “I had some deep cuts and some glass in my head,” he said, but tests on his back didn’t show any problems.
Rinehart said the memory of the accident has stayed with him. “I think about it all the time, to be honest,” he said. “I don’t think I’ll ever forget that day. It hasn’t been that long. … It could have been a lot worse.”
The accident taught Rinehart a valuable lesson. In the four years since then, he said, he hasn’t sent a single text message while driving and encourages his students not to text while driving. “It’s not worth risking everything that you want to do and all your dreams and goals that you have,” he said.
Rinehart said he told one of his English classes about his accident after they participated in the golf cart exercise demonstrating the effect of text messaging on their driving and watched a graphic film showing how a teenage driver sending a text message caused a wreck with several fatalities.
When Megan Mueller, adviser for the school’s Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD), heard about his accident, she asked him to speak at the afternoon session of the Highway Patrol’s DNT TXT N DRV program.
Rinehart’s testimony seemed to bring the dangers of texting while driving home for the juniors and seniors who heard him. He said he routinely shares the story with his students so they don’t make the same mistake he did.
As for his classes, Rinehart said he purchased a cell phone jammer to prevent students from texting. “I can’t count in my life how many kids I’ve had in the last four years that try to text in class,” he said, “and they get better at it every year.”
A native of Richmond, Mich., Rinehart said there weren’t many teaching jobs in his home state when he graduated from Saginaw Valley. He has an uncle, Kenneth Rinehart, who lives on High Rock Lake, so he decided to apply for some teaching jobs in this area.
That’s when Rinehart got his teaching job at East, where he is also the running backs coach for the football team and the head indoor track coach.

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