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The Distracted Driving Project: David Little’s story

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Statistics and numbers can feel impersonal, but they are facts. And for every number, there is a face - a family.

We want to introduce you to one of those families, the Little family, of Huntsville. As their story shows, the effects of distracted driving go far beyond the statistics.

David Little told us, "It was six years ago for us for the wreck but the story is still relevant today." That story began one evening in December, 2008, only five days before Christmas, when David Little, his wife, Mimi, and their three children left their home to have dinner out.

"We were going to a restaurant down in Morgan County to see some family that was there and have some good barbecue. We were kind of strung out on all the Christmas activities and just a little family time."

A couple of hours later, they were headed back home on Hwy 36 east.

"I had been going about 55, maybe a little faster. Mimi actually told me to slow down because it had been raining. It wasn't raining anymore but the roads were wet... I can still remember watching the speedometer go down to about 50, somewhere in there and then, looked at the clock and it was 8:15."

Then, their world exploded.

Mimi Little said, "You can't recreate the sound and the smell... I remember him leaning in and telling us he was sorry and it was his fault."

According to the state troopers' report, the driver, a 17-year-old, stated he had been looking down at his cell phone when he rear-ended the car in front of him and crossed into the eastbound lane.

"He was texting a family member that he was on his way home from a church function and he had normally sent that text from the parking lot, but on this particular night he forgot, and was doing it while he was driving," David Little said.

Mimi Little's hand was broken, but she still managed to get the children out of the SUV and safely away from the road. Although shaken, the children were unhurt. David Little was not as fortunate.

He said, "The dashboard hit my left knee and pushed my left leg through my hip socket and so, it dislocated my hip but it also broke my hip, the socket itself. I broke my collarbone. I broke two ribs, punctured my lung, broke my nose."

Rescue crews had to cut him from the family's Yukon. An ambulance rushed him to the hospital, where he underwent surgery and a stay in the intensive care unit.

On Christmas Eve, he was moved to HealthSouth rehabilitation for 16 days of inpatient care, followed by three months in a wheelchair.

The other driver was unhurt and faced no penalty for causing the crash.

David Little said, "Current laws we have in place now, it would have been a $25 fine for what he did and I'm sure he's dealt with that in his own way knowing he caused that."

But the family was also forced to deal with the aftermath of the accident and how it affected their children, ages three, five, and seven.

Mimi Little said, "Being out of the same room as us that was a problem... Our youngest, which is our son, he didn't really talk, but he played car crash with his cars, so we knew in the way in which he did it, we knew that's where all of that was coming from."

As for David and Mimi Little, while their physical injuries eventually healed, the experience also took an emotional toll.

David Little said, "I would drive by the hospital, drive by the ambulance bay and it would just start up, the memory. It consumed me for a long time."

And as for Mimi, she said, "It's never been the same for me to get in a car. I do it but I just look at it differently... It's always there. I'm surprised at how strong the emotions still are."

A young man, momentarily distracted, and a family forever changed.

David Little is now an advocate who speaks out against the dangers of distracted driving. He's using his experience to educate others.

And that's what we hope, as we ask everyone around the Tennessee Valley to please stop distracted driving before it stops you.

WHNT News 19 is proud to partner with Morris King and Hodge for a prime-time special on distracted driving.  It will air Saturday, February 27 from 7 to 8 p.m.  We'll also have more stories on our newscasts and on WHNT.com throughout the month.

We'd love for you to weigh in on this topic too.  Take our distracted driving survey or test your knowledge with our quiz.