Strapped in his car seat, toddler Henry Knoof lay bleeding and drifting in and out of consciousness while his mother and police rubbed his legs to keep him awake until paramedics arrived.
At the hospital came the news that Henry had suffered a traumatic brain injury. Then came surgery to relieve the swelling in his brain, and a medically-induced coma.
That was last summer, after a teenage driver reading a text message made a left turn at a busy Eagan intersection and collided head-on with Kelsey Dyals’ vehicle.
On Monday, Dyals gave an encouraging progress report about her son — and a plea for drivers to put down their phones.
Henry is taking anti-seizure medication as a precaution, but otherwise is a crazy 2-year-old who is learning to run, walk and talk, his mother said.
“We are optimistic that he will make a full recovery,” she said.
Dyals, 20, of Rosemount, talked publicly about the frantic moments of July 17 for the first time Monday, in hopes that other motorists will heed the messages about how dire the consequences of distracted driving can be.
The teen driver was charged with a felony for criminal vehicular operation and a misdemeanor for careless driving in juvenile court in Dakota County. A sentencing date is pending.
“Teens think that the phone is their priority, but it’s not,” said Dyals, who admitted she had texted behind the wheel herself — before.
“I am a young mother, and I’ve done it,” she said. “But after that day, I will never send a text message [while driving] again. One text almost killed my son.”
Nearly 25 percent of fatal crashes in Minnesota last year were attributed to distracted driving, according to data from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. In addition to 48 deaths, distracted driving was a factor in 16,920 crashes and led to 7,377 injuries.
“No one intends a second here or a second there to end up seriously injuring or killing someone, but good intentions don’t prevent crashes or save lives,” said Donna Berger director of the department’s Office of Traffic Safety.
In Minnesota, it is illegal to send or read e-mails and texts, or surf the Internet while a vehicle is in motion or in traffic — including while stopped at a traffic light. It’s also illegal for teenagers with a provisional driver’s license to use a cellphone while driving at any time.
Berger said the problem of driving while on the phone needs to be viewed as taboo in the same way that drunken driving is now.
‘We need to change’
At any one moment, 660,000 drivers are using cellphones or electronic devices while driving, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
“It’s not OK to multi-task while behind the wheel … we need to change the culture,” Berger said. “People need to speak up and say that is not OK.”
Eagan police officer Michael Schneider, who was the first police officer on the scene July 17, said motorists need to hold themselves accountable.
“All it takes is one text to have something like this happen and it’s easily preventable,” he said.
Dyals said she had never thought twice about texting and driving.
“You don’t think about it till it happens to you or somebody related to you,” she said. “No message is worth taking somebody’s life or your own. There is no reason to look down. It can be easily prevented.”