In June 2003, the Bush administration nixed a report on the dangers of gabbing while driving. Six months later, a Michigan 12-year-old became another statistic.

Behind the wheel and busy on her cell phone, Holly Jo Smeckert didn’t slow down as she neared Knapp’s Corner, a busy intersection in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

It was January 19, 2004, and the 20-year-old nanny and Sunday-school teacher was taking her young charge to dance class in her employers’ Hummer. Smeckert was so absorbed in her call that she noticed neither the red light nor the line of cars stopped in the adjacent lane awaiting a signal change. Traffic flowed through the intersection in front of her, but that didn’t register either. Without even touching the brakes, she blasted through the light at 45 miles an hour, slamming into a Chevy Suburban and pushing it 120 feet—over a sidewalk and onto a patch of snow.

The other driver, Judy Teater, wasn’t badly hurt, but Joe, her 12-year-old son, bore the full impact. He was unconscious, his breathing wet and gurgling. Judy, a former nurse, struggled to clear an airway. An anesthesiologist pulled over and tried mouth-to-mouth, sucking blood from Joe’s lungs and spitting it onto the snow. A neighbor of the Teaters who had witnessed the crash called Judy’s husband Dave in near hysterics; he arrived in time to watch emergency crews extricate his son, and then rode with Joe in the ambulance.

The boy never regained consciousness. Doctors ran tests but found no sign of brain activity, so the Teaters gave their permission to take their son off life support and harvest his organs. Joe’s death was a big local story, and hundreds of people turned out for his funeral.

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