More than 11 years after losing her 5-year-old son in a distracted driver crash, a Southern California mother shared her tragic story Wednesday in hopes of preventing other families from suffering a similar experience.
Parent advocate and San Diego resident Elene Bratton spoke at Rady Children’s Hospital as part of National Child Passenger Safety Week, held through Sept. 21 by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Alongside representatives from the hospital and the Automobile Club of Southern California, the City Heights resident shared the story of how one instance of distracted driving changed her family’s life forever.
The day was April 24, 2002.
Bratton said her sister, Angela, had planned to pick up her son, Jamie Morgan Mychael Bratton (pictured above), from school and spend the day with him.
With Jamie in the car, Bratton said the last thing her sister remembers is reaching for her cell phone, which was ringing on the seat next to her.
As Angela reached for the phone, she made a turn, lost control of her vehicle and crashed into a truck.
Jamie was critically injured in the collision and airlifted to Rady Children’s Hospital. The boy – exactly one month shy of his 6th birthday – later died at the hospital.
Bratton said her sister survived, but suffered a traumatic brain injury that impacts her life to this day. She also lives with the pain of knowing that one moment of distraction behind the wheel took Jamie’s young life.
“Jamie was in the back seat, buckled up as he should’ve been,” said Bratton. “But his little body couldn’t withstand the impact that happened when [my sister] lost control of her vehicle and made a left-hand turn into traffic.”
Through tears, Bratton said she often thinks about how things could’ve been different had the crash not claimed her son’s life.
“My family has been grappling now for 11 years with the impact of what distracted driving does,” she said. “Every day I think about my son, and every day I wish that he was here and that I was just a mother of a 17-year-old, taking him to soccer or whatever he would be doing in his life now. I don’t know what my son looks like anymore.”
Bratton said she hopes her family’s story serves as a warning to drivers to make safety a priority and avoid every possible distraction behind the wheel.
Since Jamie’s death, the mother co-founded Jamie’s Joy, a San Diego-based foundation dedicated to helping children in need and raising awareness for traffic safety.
Through the foundation and her family’s story, Bratton said she keeps the legacy of her son alive.
“Jamie’s legacy is love, peace, joy and connection,” she said. "He was a beautiful, active boy who loved people and loved life. He had a lot of life left to live.”
According to the NHTSA, in 2011 a total of 3,331 people were killed in crash involving a distracted driver while 387,000 people were injured.
“Buckle up every trip,” said Mary Beth Moran on Wednesday, program manager for the Center of Healthier Communities at Rady Children’s Hospital.
“Avoid the dangers of distracted driving,” she added.
In addition, the NHTSA says more than one-third of children under the age of 13 who died in car crashes in 2011 were not in car seats or wearing seat belts. The NHTSA wants to remind caregivers of the importance of the proper use of car seats, booster seats and seat belts.
To determine if your child is in the right seat for his or her age and size, visit this website.
To learn more about distracted driving from the NHTSA, click here.
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