Tragic loss leads to advocacy; teaches teens danger of not buckling up

Lawton_Lack of seatbelt use is the biggest cause of death of teenagers involved in car accidents and Tammy Ryden is trying to spread the word about seatbelt safety to teens.  She spoke at Central Middle School in Lawton Tuesday afternoon about the death of her daughter.  Nearly eight years ago her 15 year old daughter was killed in a car accident - she was not wearing a seatbelt.  Tammy truly believes her daughter would be here today had she buckled up.

Sometimes it's hard to keep middle schooler's attention, but Ryden had no problem.  And, despite the topic being so personal, she had no problem telling her daughter's story.  Fifteen year old Rachel Ryden was just like any other teen - full of life.  But, her life tragically ended when she forgot to buckle up.  When she and two friends were hit head on, Rachel was ejected from the vehicle and died instantly.

It's a scary thought for a teenager - especially for someone just about to get their license.  Fifteen year old Carissa Parker was a member of the audience for this important talk.  "My parents have told me this so much before," she says.  "But it never really opened my eyes as much as it did today because I've never really seen a presentation like really encouraged me to be safe and wear my seatbelt."  It's exactly the message Ryden wants to drive home - that it shouldn't take another death for someone to wake up.

Sixth grader Caleb Gregory is convinced, now, that it can happen to anyone.  "Her daughter died just because she wasn't buckled and that really got me," he says.  "'Cause it could happen to anyone."

It took Ryden some years after her daughter's death before she had the strength to do something about it.  She abandoned a 21 year teaching career to commit full time to the cause and to her daughter's memory and started the "Rachel Ryden Foundation" to advocate for traffic safety.  "My passion for teaching mathematics has shifted into talking to teens about responsible driving and seatbelt use," she says.  "My daughter's death has to count for something and that's the way I've always felt because it was so preventable and so senseless."

Ryden told the young crowd about how hard it is to hear that you've lost a loved one and especially difficult when it's your child.  It's something Carissa hopes she never puts anyone through.  "My mom has always told me if anything ever happened to me she wouldn't know what she would do," she says.  "She would blame herself - I just don't want to put anyone through that - especially not my parents."

Ryden will be speaking at three different Lawton schools for the remainder of the week.