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updated: 6/27/2012 1:31 PM

Road signs a reminder to a life lost to distracted driving

State-issued signs honor Round Lake Beach man

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  • Charlene Sligting of Elgin holds a picture of her with her father, John, by signs recently installed by the Illinois Department of Transportation on Route 137 near Libertyville, where her father was killed in 2007.

       Charlene Sligting of Elgin holds a picture of her with her father, John, by signs recently installed by the Illinois Department of Transportation on Route 137 near Libertyville, where her father was killed in 2007.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • Charlene Sligting, along with friends and family, planted wildflowers around the Bull Creek sign along Route 137 in Libertyville. Sligting's father, John Sligting, was killed in a traffic accident there in 2007.

       Charlene Sligting, along with friends and family, planted wildflowers around the Bull Creek sign along Route 137 in Libertyville. Sligting's father, John Sligting, was killed in a traffic accident there in 2007.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • John Sligting, left, and Charlene Sligting of Elgin.

      John Sligting, left, and Charlene Sligting of Elgin.
    courtesy of Charlene Sligting

 
 

Over the years, the wildflowers sown by Sligting family members at the base of the Bull Creek subdivision sign on Route 137 near Libertyville have added life and color to the roadside landscape.

But that's not what Charlene Sligting wants people to notice. Instead, the newly installed blue signs, one atop another, near the westbound shoulder just a few feet away carry the message she wishes drivers would heed.

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"Where the sign is, is where my dad's body ended up laying," she says during a recent return to the scene of painful memories. Her father, John, was killed five years ago when his motorcycle struck a car that had blown the stop sign at Bull Creek Drive while turning left onto Route 137. "My heart still skips a beat when I'm over here."

The signs read, "Reckless Driving Costs Lives," "In memory of John Sligting, June 13, 2007."

The 56-year-old Round Lake Beach resident and retired Army veteran and firefighter was on his way home from work about 12:15 a.m. when he saw the situation developing. His brakes left a skid mark about the length of two standard school buses, but he couldn't avoid the collision and was thrown over the top of the car.

The teen driver was talking on her cellphone. Affected by what Charlene Sligting described as "inattention blindness," the driver never saw the motorcycle.

John Sligting died at the scene. The crash was three days before Father's Day.

The card she was going to give her dad five years ago is framed and hangs on the wall of her Elgin home. It serves as a reminder and incentive as she has become a victim advocate for the National Safety Council and works to educate the public on the dangers of distracted driving.

"It's another way to create awareness," she said of the signs. "Somebody's life was lost because of a bad choice. It's another way to honor my dad's memory."

The signs became available on Jan. 1, 2011, as an extension of the state's DUI memorial sign program.

Only seven have been erected in Illinois, with Sligting's being the third in Lake County. The others are at Route 12 and Old McHenry Road north of Lake Zurich and at Church Street and Jamie Lane in Lake Zurich.

"It's relatively small, surprisingly enough," said Martha Brown, who coordinates the sign program for the Illinois Department of Transportation. About 45 DUI signs have been installed.

Sligting spends her day researching crashes in the U.S. but felt compelled to do more. With a grant from the Allstate Foundation and support of the National Safety Council, she started the HEARTS (Honoring Everyone Affected, Rallying The Survivors) Network.

The national network focuses on the impact of teen driver crashes and connects 90 families to share their stories and influence change, Sligting said.

The National Safety Council, which advocates a statewide ban on cellphone use while driving, estimates 21 percent or 1.1 million crashes in 2010 involved talking on handheld or hands-free cellphones. Another 3 percent of crashes involved text messaging, according to estimates. Each day, more than 15 people die in crashes associated with teen drivers, the council estimates.

State law prohibits texting while driving. Hand-held cellphone use is banned while driving in construction and school speed zones, and drivers under 19 are banned from using cellphones in all circumstances.

Another distracted driving sign in Lake County honors Anita Zaffke, who was stopped at a traffic signal on her motorcycle at Route 12 and Old McHenry Road when she was struck and killed in 2009 by a woman doing her nails.

Her son, Greg Zaffke, founded the Crash Coalition group involved with distracted driving issues.

"We have a long road ahead of us before our efforts, coupled with the vital stiffening of legislation, prosecution (and) sentencing to hold drivers accountable for their actions behind the wheel, begin to make significant dents in public behavior just as the drunk driving campaign has done over several decades," he said in an email.

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