SALT LAKE CITY — Zachery Lindley grabbed his skateboard, headed out the door and said, “I love you too, Mom!”
If he had grabbed a helmet, too, he might still be alive today.
The 17-year-old was hit by a car while he was skateboarding in Sandy on Dec. 6, 2011. He was headed to his girlfriend’s house to celebrate their anniversary and give her a sweet letter, stowed in his back pocket.
After 10 brain surgeries, two months in intensive care and seven months in nursing homes, Lindley died on Sept. 12, 2012.
“(A helmet’s) not cool, it doesn’t look neat, it doesn’t allow you to let your long hair blow in the breeze like Zachery had,” said his father, Robert Lindley. “But his hair’s never going to blow in the breeze again.
"And what happened to Zachery is definitely not cool.”
Lindley was one of the 21 Utah teenagers who lost their lives in 2012 because of a motor vehicle crash.
The Utah Department of Health and Utah Department of Transportation gathered together some families of teen crash victims Wednesday to share their stories. This is the sixth year the departments have recorded such stories, which are compiled in a book to help prevent future accidents.
Robert Lindley and his wife, Tracie, pleaded with parents to make sure children wear helmets and seat belts, so they won’t have to “wake in grief” like they do.
Zachery Lindley left behind his parents, six siblings — including his twin brother — and Wilson. Wilson is the teddy bear Zachery held tightly for the nine months he struggled to survive.
Wilson now rides buckled up in the back seat of Robert Lindley’s car every day as a comfort and as a reminder to be safe on the road.
“Life is precious,” Tracie Lindley said. “It makes you change your mind about certain things you would say or do because you don’t know when it could end.”
Motor vehicle crashes are the No. 1 cause of death for American teenagers. A teen driver car crash occurs every 52 minutes in Utah, according to Dr. David Patton, executive director of the health department.
“These instances occur in a blink of an eye, but they affect a masterpiece in progress. These are lives that are unfinished and the tragedy is seeing these lives that go incomplete,” Patton said.
Eighteen months ago, Malone Sheeran also left a twin behind when her car rolled over after work on the way home to Oakley on April 23, 2012.
“Although there is a lot we don’t know about her accident and its causes, we are sure she was not texting and she was not on her cellphone,” said her identical twin sister, Mason Sheeran. “The only thing that we can be sure of that would have saved her life is if she (had been) wearing her seatbelt.”
Malone, 16, was an ambitious and service-oriented girl who built homes in Mexico, tutored elementary school children, mentored Girl Scouts and participated on the debate and academic decathlon teams.
Her sister said her goals, including her plans to study astrophysics at Louisiana State University, were cut short because she wasn’t wearing her seat belt.
“Whatever your hesitation is or whatever your reason is, it’s not worth your life, especially for the people around you,” Mason Sheeran said.
Malone’s father became especially emotional at the mention that he’d never be able to watch the History Channel with his daughter again — one of their favorite things to do together.
“The most important thing my family begs of people to learn from my sister’s accident is the importance of safe driving and the importance of wearing your seatbelt,” said Sheeran, who is a student leader of the “Don’t Drive Stupid” campaign at South Summit High School.
Only about half of the teens killed last year were wearing seat belts, according to Carlos Braceras, executive director of UDOT. He said all 10 Utah teens who have lost their lives so far in 2013 were not wearing seat belts.
Braceras urged everyone to beware of drowsy driving, distracted driving, aggressive driving, impaired driving and not buckling up.
“Seat belts can and do save lives. There’s no question about it.” Braceras said. “Let’s buckle up.”