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A father gives his perspective on distracted driving: ‘My daughter made a choice ... ’

Matt Logan holds a laptop with a photo of his daughter, Deianerah Jean. The 17-year-old lost her life when texting while driving on the first day of school of her senior year. (Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny)1 / 2
Deianerah Jean “Deej” Logan died in a crash after she was texting while driving. (Submitted photo) 2 / 2

REDWOOD FALLS — Deianerah Jean “Deej” Logan’s first day of her senior year in high school started at 6:30 a.m. with her cell phone alarm showing the exclamation points and smiley face she had typed on it.

The 17-year-old’s life ended because she decided to type a text message on the phone later that day. She was driving behind a school bus on her way home.

“I’m driving up over the hill, a hill I’ve driven hundreds of times. This time the scene was different,’’ said her father, Matt Logan of Pine Island, of that day, Sept. 4, 2012.

He was on the roadway north of Byron where his oldest daughter had started her senior year.

The medical helicopter had just landed when he came upon the crash scene, Logan told an audience of more 100 Friday in Redwood Falls at the annual “Towards Zero Deaths’’ conference hosted by District 8 of the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

He asked the sheriff directing traffic what happened. He explained that his daughter could have been driving ahead of him.

The sheriff told him to wait in his vehicle. He got on his radio to find out who was in the crash.

“At that time I was praying it wasn’t her. Then really realizing it probably was. Praying then at that point that she was OK,’’ said Logan.

It wasn’t long before another officer arrived asking the kind of questions “that you know what comes next,’’ said Logan.

It took an hour for emergency workers to extract Deej Logan from her vehicle. Her father watched as his daughter, strapped to a gurney and wearing a neck brace, was rolled aboard the helicopter.

He phoned his wife, Megan, and other family members.

They waited at St. Marys Hospital in Rochester for the two doctors who eventually emerged from the emergency room. The looks on their faces, the words they were using had him dreading the message to come

“ … There’s nothing we could do for your daughter. She’s not going to pull through.’’

 “She was barely recognizable to us, the beautiful young lady that we knew,’’ said Logan of how they gathered around their dying loved one.

Staff at the hospital quit counting at 200 as her classmates, friends and others rushed to the hospital.  Word had spread of the after-school collision, and they wanted to show their support to her.

Instead, their friend’s mother had the duty of telling them to say their goodbyes to her.

Deej Logan took her last breath at 8:51 p.m. that day.

It took about four and a half weeks for the investigation into the crash to be completed. No alcohol. No drugs. No erratic driving.

The cause was the last thing family members would have expected. Deej Logan had always coached others to never text and drive, even to the point of taking phones away from her family members, said her father.

A text message not yet sent and still being composed was on her phone.

Looking down and typing on her phone, she had slammed into the back of the bus that had stopped to drop off two children, according to her father.

“My daughter made a choice to be distracted. An accident? No. A decision,’’ he told his audience.

Today, the family is preparing for the upcoming graduation of Deej’s brother, the oldest of three surviving children.

A purple-colored rock outside the Byron High School with “Deej” and a heart serves as a memorial and as a reminder of the dangers of distracted driving.

Matt Logan speaks to school groups whenever he can, urging them to never make the mistake his daughter had.

The 12 counties of southwestern Minnesota comprising MnDOT District 8 are making progress in reducing highway deaths, according to information presented at the conference. The number of fatalities on the district’s roadways declined from 138 in 2009 to 98 last year.

What are termed “distraction-related” fatalities totaled 27 in 2010, and declined to 11 last year.

“It isn’t about the statistics,’’ District 8 Engineer Jon Huseby told the audience after hearing Logan’s story. “It’s about real life. Thank you. You really brought it home for us.’’

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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