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updated: 5/7/2011 10:01 AM

Injured trooper warns against distracted driving

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  • State Trooper Starlena Wilson is back on the job after a distracted driver severely injured her in 2010.

      State Trooper Starlena Wilson is back on the job after a distracted driver severely injured her in 2010.

 
 

On a scale of one to 10, state Trooper Starlena Wilson described her pain as 100.

Lying in a crumpled heap on the Dan Ryan Expressway after a woman talking on a cellphone plowed into her, she focused on her 8-year-old daughter, Raquael.

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"I was praying to God, asking him to help me survive so I could see my daughter again," Wilson recalled Friday.

Illinois State Police warned drivers at a news conference they'll be out looking for distracted drivers who ignore laws banning texting while driving or using cellphones in school and construction zones.

Distracted driving is "a real and serious threat to the public," State Police Director Hiram Grau said. "No one including law enforcement is immune from its effects."

Wilson, 30, had stopped a motorist on the northbound lanes of the Dan Ryan Expressway in Chicago on Feb. 27, 2010, when she was struck.

The impact broke bones in both legs and her pelvis. Pieces of bone pierced her skin.

She remained conscious until she was taken into surgery.

"It's the kind of pain ... that I remember biting my lip to direct the pain somewhere else. Your head is swimming and you're trying to ignore everything and just hold on."

She was in the hospital for weeks and didn't return to work until January 2011.

Throughout a grueling rehab process, "I was determined to make it through," Wilson said. "I had to walk so I could be there for my daughter."

Nearly 6,000 people died in 2010 crashes involving a distracted driver, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The problem has hit home in the suburbs including one case in which a female motorcyclist was killed in 2010 by a woman painting her fingernails in Lake Zurich.

State police officials launched a special enforcement effort Friday that will repeated throughout the year. Named after Wilson, Operation STAR will focus on distracted drivers on the Dan Ryan, Kennedy and Eisenhower Expressways.

The 19-year-old driver who struck Wilson was convicted of aggravated reckless driving and sentenced to six months.

"I forgave her," Wilson said. "It wasn't done maliciously."

But if she could speak to the woman who turned her life upside down, "I'd tell her next time she gets behind the wheel, not to pay attention to her cellphone and keep her attention on the road."

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