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Injured grad appears at Maize High assembly on texting and driving

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014, at 8:41 p.m.
  • Updated Friday, Jan. 17, 2014, at 1:23 p.m.

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Students at Maize High School filed into the gym Thursday for an assembly sponsored by Students Against Destructive Decisions’ Don’t Text and Drive campaign.

But instead of the usual lawman or EMT delivering the frightening stats that go along with texting and car fatalities, the speaker was much more personal to the audience.

Austin Breitenstein, a 2008 Maize High graduate, was seriously injured in a texting and driving accident in 2009. He and his mother, Julie, were there to address the students on the dangers of texting while driving.

For a little over an hour, Julie Breitenstein related her son’s story to the silent audience, while a slide show of Austin’s active life before the accident played in the background. She went over the entire experience in detail, from how active Austin was before the crash to how hard the recovery process has been.

The brain damage that Austin sustained limits his speech and mobility on his right side.

“I am his voice, and he wants you to know what can happen to you when you text and drive,” his mother said.

The two have traveled to schools all over Kansas, telling Austin’s story. Thursday was the first time that the Breitensteins have spoken at Austin’s alma mater.

Alexis Loudermilk, SADD president at Maize High, said she heard about Austin’s story from her mother, who read about him in a news article.

“I thought it would be an awesome opportunity for our school … to get a Maize grad to tell his story,” Loudermilk said.

Larry Breitenstein – Austin’s father and Julie’s husband – also attended the event, as did Dawson Grimsley of Davis Moore Auto Group. Julie Breitenstein said she approached Grimsley about a partnership when she was getting her oil changed last June.

Grimsley, whose ads for his dealerships stress safe driving, was ready and willing to cooperate with Julie’s request.

“One of the most dangerous things that you will do is drive a car,” Grimsley said. “Texting and driving is a matter of life and death.”

Before leaving the gym, students and staff were encouraged to “sign the pledge” to not text and drive. They received cards to place on their key chains to remind them of their commitment.

Julie Breitenstein said she and Austin are due to go to Hawaii later this month, to speak at schools there.

Reach Marcella Brooks at mbrooks@wichitaeagle.com.

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