Friday, December 15, 2017
Public safety

Parents of teen killed in text-related crash retell story in Tampa class

TAMPA — A heart-shaped pendant etched with a photograph of a smiling, dark-haired girl dangles from Agnes Augello's neck.

The photo is of her daughter, Allie. She was killed in a traffic crash nearly four years ago. Augello wore it as she relived the events Wednesday at Hillsborough High that led to the girl's death in 2008.

Augello and her husband, Steve, were speaking as part of AT&T's "It Can Wait" initiative, which discourages drivers from texting while on the road.

"We had very strict rules with Allie," Augello said. "No cellphone use in the car."

Allie, 17, was heading home from theater practice at Bishop McLaughlin Catholic High in Spring Hill when the vehicle of a pregnant girl who was texting veered into the other lane of Hudson Avenue and slammed head-on into Allie's car.

"In six minutes," Augello said, "three lives were lost."

A Florida Highway Patrol trooper showed up at the Augellos' Spring Hill home with Allie's purse. Her cellphone was tucked in a zippered compartment.

Since her death, the Augellos have told the story to reporters, students and politicians in the hope that a law banning texting while driving will one day pass in Florida.

"I'm not here to give you statistics," Steve Augello said. "I'm here as a father who lost his baby girl."

Before the couple spoke to the nearly 20 students in a driver's education class, Andrew Hall, an AT&T manager, played a video that included interviews with people affected by texting and driving.

Among them was a woman whose sister flipped her car after receiving a text and a man who suffered brain damage after his car crashed into a tree.

In the darkness of the classroom, some students cried. At one point, Steve Augello bowed his head and wiped away tears.

As the Augellos spoke, Steve Augello handed out two photographs of the mangled Saturn that Allie drove. Blood smeared parts of the interior. The front of the car was nearly torn off.

Tampa police Chief Jane Castor also spoke to the class. She said drinking and driving was not looked down upon in the past. Now, Castor said, many people think "texting and driving is something that is looked at as not being a big issue."

In a survey, 75 percent of teens said it's common for their friends to text while driving, according to AT&T.

Ryan Clark, 17, said he wasn't sure if he should tell a friend who was driving and texting to put the phone down.

"You're a passenger," he said. "You don't feel like you have the power to stop them."

After the presentation, students got the chance to use an online simulator created by AT&T that shows the user how a car can veer from a lane while the driver is texting. Students also were asked to sign a pledge stating they would not text and drive.

Before leaving the podium, Agnes Augello had one message for the teens.

"When you get behind the wheel of that car, remember our daughter, Allie," she said. "It can wait."

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