Killed by a distracted driver but still changing the world

KHQA wants you to Just Let It Ring. Our public awareness campaign has been going on for about a month.

We want you to go here, and pledge to drive now, text later. This promise could save your life, or the lives of others.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports distracted driving caused twenty percent of accidents with injuries in 2009.

KHQA's Lindsey Boetsch spoke to one family who lost a loved one due to distracted driving.

Chuck and Gloria Wilhelm had four beautiful children, three sons and a daughter. If you ask Gloria, she still has four children, even though their third son, Matthew, was killed by a distracted driver. Since the accident in 2006, the Wilhelms have used their grief to make sure this doesn't happen to anyone else.

"Our son Matthew Wilhelm was 25 and just graduated from U of I after working hard to get a Master's degree in mechanical engineering. He was out biking and was way off on the side of the road. He had on a helmet and it was daylight and a girl who had three serious driving violations was looking down, downloading ringtones on a cell phone. She obviously had her eyes completely off the road because she left the roadway completely and she hit him with the driver's side of her car. The state trooper told us, he did everything right. He was very rule-oriented, being an engineer, and she was just totally off the road. She just couldn't wait. She was just too distracted."

Chuck and Gloria Wilhelm have been key players in passing the Illinois texting law. Now, they are working with US Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood to get legislation for the whole country.

"A lot of people, just getting your attention and seeing how dangerous it is, will change their behaviors. But we think we also need laws to make some people at least not be so dangerous to other folks," said Chuck Wilhelm.

The Wilhelms also are pushing for Matt's Law -- in honor of their son. The law would make harsher punishments for distracted drivers who kill people. Thirty-five states have a Negligent Vehicular Homicide law -- Illinois does not.

"She got a traffic ticket. Improper lane usage was the only charge and her maximum fine was $1,000 and that was basically it. No community service. And that's what left the judge frustrated. There was nothing else he could do because in Illinois, it's either a traffic offense, or it's a felony," said Chuck Wilhelm.

"I thought the perfect punishment would be not just community service but going with both of us and our three remaining children to the cemetery and watching our faces in front of his tombstone. To me, that would be it," said Gloria Wilhelm.

Matthew's parents believe the solution is simple.

"Don't be taking those phone calls because all of a sudden your brain is distracted, you lose your peripheral vision, and who knows what's going to happen then," said Chuck Wilhelm

"We don't want someone else to say to a parent, 'I'm sorry, I killed your son or daughter.' No call, no text is worth this,'" said Gloria.

Matthew's parents always thought Matt would change the world somehow ... they just didn't know how. Well ... now they know ...

Your pledge in our Just Let It Ring campaign not only could save lives, it could win you some great prizes!

And contact us here at KHQA if you'd like for us to speak to your service club or other organization about this important campaign.