Jim Jones recovering in the hospital after being struck by a distracted driver. He recovered and danced with his daughter at her wedding. (Photos Courtesy of Doug Shupe)

At a news conference Monday at the Historic Auto Club Building in Los Angeles, two rows of white chairs were empty — except for white roses and placards holding the names of nine people — which represented the scores of people who have lost their lives to distracted driving. 

Two of them were sisters Marlenne, 14, and Amy Lorenzo, 12, who were walking to school in LA when they were hit and dragged by a dump truck. The driver was looking for music videos on his phone. Another was Conor Lynch, a 16-year-old Notre Dame High School athlete who was crossing the street in Sherman Oaks when he was hit by an 18-year-old distracted driver.

April is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month. The news conference was held to encourage drivers to be more attentive behind the wheel and to highlight the devastation caused when a driver’s eyes aren’t on the road.

Cell phones are the number one cause of distracted driving. Each year thousands of people are killed by motorists who text while driving.  

Jim Jones understands the severity of this problem — he was nearly killed.

The 72-year-old Jones was at Monday’s news conference sharing his own experience at the hands of an inattentive driver.

Nine years ago, Jones was taking a walk near his Napa Valley home, his thoughts on his daughter’s upcoming wedding. When walking through a crosswalk, Jones was hit from behind by a truck driven by a 19-year-old man, who was on the phone with his girlfriend.

Jones was launched into the air and landed on his head. To make matters worse, Jones also got hooked onto the truck and was dragged down the road by the panicked driver. When the driver finally came to a stop, Jones said that he wasn’t breathing.

“I was gone,” Jones said. “A lady was walking with her family … and witnessed everything and ran to me and gave me hands-on CPR and revived me. I ended up in the ambulance and coded  twice and my family initially was told I was dead. And then they were told I was going to be basically brain dead. They went through hell.”

Jones suffered from brain damage and stayed for a month in the hospital. Doctors believed he wouldn’t be able to recover. His daughter, who already lost her mother when she was just entering high school, quit her job to care for him — along with the help of a nurse — for four months.

He credits his recovery to his daughter’s aid, as well as his determination to walk her down the aisle for her wedding. Despite the odds, and after taking physical therapy, he was able to accomplish just that.

The driver that caused the accident was not ticketed, but was reported as being at fault by officers, which helped Jones’ family get the insurance money to pay for his treatment. Jones holds no anger or resentment towards the driver, hoping that this experience has changed his behavior for the better.

“My thought was take what I have and move forward,” Jones said. “I’ve been able to do that and that came from having a very loving family who was very supportive.”

Jones still has brain damage and has neuropathy — weakness, numbness and pain caused by damage to the nerves outside of the brain and spinal cord — in his right foot and legs and now walks with a cane. He urges drivers to be more attentive while on the road, saying that distracted driving impacts not only the victims, but their families as well.

“We’re seeing way too many injuries due to distracted driving, and it’s a loss that can be changed,” Jones said. “I know people will be resistant because people enjoy talking on their phones while they’re driving … but I think if enough people yell for long enough that we might be able to help prevent a few accidents at least.

“I don’t want to call them accidents either, I call them crashes because it’s not an accident. If you’re on your cell phone, you’re well aware of what you’re doing and you’re well aware of what could happen.”

Jones works as a volunteer on the LA mayor’s crisis response team, which responds to homicides, suicides and traffic crashes. He has seen firsthand other people who have been the victims of distracted drivers who weren’t as fortunate as him. 2020 data collected by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that distracted driving kills an average of nine people every day in the United States.

“It seems safer for a child to walk across the street in Paris and Moscow and London than it is here in LA,” Jones said.

The Auto Club and Jones urge drivers to either stow their phone out of sight or to use driving focus features available in smartphones that limit the number of notifications. If you really need to make a call or send a message, pull over to the side of the road or have a passenger do it if one is available. And speak up if you see a driver looking at their phone and not on the road.

“I know that’s all hard, but at the same time, it’s so important. And that’s why I’m here today.”

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