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Marine's Aunt Crusades Against Distracted Driving

Joann Heerman is a mom of four, including twins who will soon be allowed behind the wheel of a car. Heerman turned her attention to the dangers of distracted driving after her nephew, a Marine from Greenwich, died in a car crash in March. She takes her stories to students in Greenwich and Stamford.

“I’m not nervous anymore,” Heerman said of her own kids driving. “They were hit so hard by losing him, they see what I’m doing, they come with me at one time or another. … The loss isn’t going to go away. I’m not worried anymore.”

Lance Cpl. Joseph Schiano, a Riverside resident and graduate of Greenwich High School, had served in the Marines for four years, including two tours in Afghanistan, and had returned home earlier this year. He died in March when he lost control of his Volkswagen Jetta and crashed into a utility pole. Schiano was speeding.

“His evil was his speeding. He was seat-belted and was not texting, and I always make that clear to the kids,” said Heerman, a Stamford resident, showing the sandwich boards she takes with her. They are filled with pictures of Schiano and statistics about the No. 1 cause of car crashes for teens — distracted driving.

In one of the first schools she visited in Stamford, Heerman picked up a microphone during lunch. “You could hear a pin drop because all I asked them for was a minute, and I said a minute was all Joseph would have had to think,” said Heerman. “It was an unbelievable response.”

Joann handed out more than 2,000 bracelets and 2,500 thumb bands in the five schools in the schools’ colors. The colorful bands hanging from a tree attracts the teens, then she tells Schiano’s story and invites each teen to sign a pledge. She hopes to turn her efforts into a not-for-profit, and next year she’s been called to five more schools. “It amazes me and it makes me happy and it makes me angry, because if everyone is trying to suck me in so much, why isn’t this being done everywhere?” said Heerman.

Heerman said she meets kids who are moved by her statistics and stories but say they cannot stop texting. “I was talking to a pair of girls, and one of them held her arm and said to her friend, ‘But you have to stop,’” said Heerman. “The message here is, ‘Their lives are too precious.’ The knock on the door my sister-in-law got, she’ll never forget it.”

As for her own children, Heerman knows when they drive they will only be driving. “My two 12-year-olds wrote a poem together … ‘A car is a tool to get from place to place, not to speed and not to race, to go and see family and friends, not get caught on the bad end, you might want to get there as fast as you can but you should make sure you buckle up so things don’t end.”

Do you talk to your kids about the dangers of distracted driving?

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