Shreya Dixit, a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin, planned to hop a Greyhound bus home for a weekend visit to her parents in the fall of 2007. But at the last minute, she was offered a ride from Madison to the Minneapolis area by an acquaintance.

She called home to tell her parents of the change in plans -- and that was the last time her mother heard her voice. About 45 minutes west of Madison, the driver turned around to look in the back seat for a napkin. She lost control of the Chevy Suburban and smashed the right front end of the vehicle into a concrete pillar of an underpass.

Shreya, 19, who was in the front passenger seat, was killed. Two others walked away from the vehicle unhurt, as did the driver -- who got a ticket for inattentive driving and a $113 fine.

"She was the most warm, wonderful, happy, generous young woman -- full of humor, full of life," Vijay Dixit says of his daughter. "She tutored underprivileged kids, she volunteered for the Red Cross -- she was just so loving and giving to everyone -- but especially to the three of us. And we will never enjoy her humor, hear her laugh or hear her play her music again. We lost our future."

To help prevent similar tragedies, Vijay and Rekha Dixit and daughter Nayha Dixit formed the Shreya R. Dixit Distraction Free Driving Foundation ( The Eden Prairie family awards two $1,500 scholarships in her name and on Aug. 1, the foundation will sponsor its second annual 5K Raksha Walk to honor Shreya and increase awareness for the cause.

About 80 percent of crashes are due to drivers distracted three seconds before the impact, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Commission.

"When a death occurs, as in the Dixit case, it is charged the same as a penalty for going over the white line -- or making some other careless mistake but not injuring anyone," says Sharon Gehrman-Driscoll of Minnesotans for Safe Driving. The organization has tried for three years to get careless driving elevated from a misdemeanor to a gross misdemeanor, because the penalties are more stringent.

"Driving responsibly means keeping your eyes and your ears on the road," Dixit says, "without getting distracted by music or conversation -- or by multi-tasking or using cell phones, texting, playing with iPods, eating, smoking, putting on makeup or reading."

Almost two years later, Rekha Dixit still can hardly speak of the accident. Nayha, 27, has steadfastly tried to comfort her parents, while awash in her own grief. "We were just getting to the point where we could talk about everything. It's really hard for me to think that when I get married, she won't be there; that my children won't have cousins."

The Dixits are on their fourth grief counselor, and if some days are better, they still have many that are awful. "People are very well meaning," Vijay Dixit says. "Some of them, basically, insist that we move on. 'Time will help you; time will heal,' they say.

"But for us, time stopped on Nov. 1, 2007. And since then, it's crawling."

Kate McCarthy is a Minneapolis freelance writer.