Bonnye Spray isn’t a public speaker yet she chooses to stand before hundreds of teenage strangers any chance she can get.
Spray is a wife and mother trying to save lives through the sharing of her pain — the pain of losing her 19-year-old daughter Amanda in a car accident in 2007.
Amanda, a 2006 OHS graduate, died when her car plummeted nearly 50 feet to the ground. It took 40 minutes for the rescue crews to extricate Amanda from the crumpled wreckage and her heart stopped three times before finally succumbing to her injuries. The cause of the accident, which happened on a Sunday when Amanda’s car went over the ramp to French Camp, was blamed on distracted driving.
Amanda had been text messaging.
“She walked out of the house, smiled at me and said she’d be right back,” Spray recalled, tears filling her eyes. “And that was the last time I saw her alive.”
Spray said her daughter was like most teenagers, bubbly, easily distracted, very social and fond of her phone. She never went anywhere without it and it was usually attached to her ear. Amanda’s accident happened before the cell phone law went into effect.
“I told her not to use her phone when she was driving but it wasn’t illegal so I didn’t really think too much about it,” Spray said.
When the law went into effect Spray said it was, “too little, too late.”
Spray had said goodbye to her daughter on a Sunday, unbeknownst to her that by the following day she’d be signing authorizations to donate her daughter’s organs.
The months that followed were a blur of tears, grief and anguish.
“She was my baby. We had a special bond,” Spray shared, wiping at her eyes. “You don’t think something is going to happen to your child. And the kids think it’s all fun and games. They don’t ever think anything is going to happen to them either. But anything can happen in five seconds.”
It was during one of those moments when Spray was wondering why this had happened to her daughter when she heard a voice.
“It said, ‘put it to use,’” Spray said. “And I realized I had to do something.”
Spray started talking with teens as part of the Impact Teen Driving nonprofit organization. She’s shared her story over and over in the hopes that Amanda’s story will influence other teens to put the cell phone away when they’re behind the wheel.
“Every time I tell the story I cry. I’m reliving the worst day of my life but if it saves one kid’s life, it was worth it,” Spray said.
She’s been featured on Good Day Sacramento, and most recently News10 in a segment called Hang Up and Drive.
On average, she travels to area high schools once a month to share Amanda’s story. Precision Driving School has also asked her to speak to their students in the hopes of impressing upon the young drivers the importance of driving without distractions.
“Text messaging takes 37 percent of your concentration away from the road,” Spray said. “Car accidents are the leading cause of teenage death. One in 10 will be in a car accident in their first year. It’s like playing Russian roulette. You never know when it’s going to be the end. A phone call is not worth your life. You don’t get a do-over.”
While teens are notorious for ignoring their parents’ advice or dictates when it suits them, Spray said the best way to get the message across is to lead by example.
“Everyone is in such a big hurry — everyone thinks their life is so much more important than everyone else’s. It’s selfish,” Spray said. “I’m not a public speaker, but when it comes down to this, I can do it.”
Spray will never again see her daughter’s smile or hear her chatter about the events happening in her life; she’ll never hold her close or have the opportunity to watch her fall in love.
But Spray hopes that someone else’s mother won’t have to suffer like she does every day.
“I miss her smile the most and the way she’d tell me that she loved me,” Spray said, her voice breaking. “I miss everything.”