In a Matter of Seconds: Colfax family creating awareness about texting and driving after losing son

It's something Jim and Lisa Thompson told their three boys not to do. 

"I've always tried to teach my boys, "says Lisa, "your mistakes now can have forever consequences. You've got to be careful."

Sam was the Thompson's youngest son. He graduated from Colfax High School 2012. He played football, ran track and was in Boy Scouts growing up. He was a busy kid. 

On September 12, 2014 Sam was driving back to school at Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston. That's when his mother got a phone call at work. 

"They said accident, I thought oh my gosh my mother got in an accident. I had no idea that it would have been Sam," she says, tearing up.

Sam Thompson was heading south on Highway 195 near the Albion intersection just south of Colfax when the accident happened. Investigators say he was texting while driving, veered across the center lane, and hit a semi-truck head on. 

"They said he probably never looked up from his phone and probably died instantly. At least that's a little comfort." Lisa told KHQ's Dylan Wohlenhaus. The crash happened just one week before Sam's 21st birthday. 

"I mean he knew better." Lisa said. 

"We just couldn't believe it." added Jim, who is also a Lieutenant for the Colfax Fire Department. 

Many firefighters and paramedics who knew Jim responded to the crash that day. 

"We knew it wasn't Jim. We knew it wasn't Lisa, the other two boys live in Texas. When I walked up and saw that short blonde hair, that's when we knew." Chaplain Ken McNaughton recalled. 

McNaughton was one of the first to arrive on scene. He said a few of the paramedics were also very close to the Thompson family and were quickly sent home because the crash scene was so difficult for them to handle. 

Blamed on a glitch in the pager system, Jim Thompson did not get the call to respond that day.

"I just think that was our guardian angel making sure Jim did not respond to that call," Lisa said.

KHQ puts texting while driving to the test

With the help of AJ Seitz from 911 Driving School in Spokane, KHQ's Dylan Wohlenhaus put texting while driving to the test. 

In a closed lot, using a reaction timer mounted on the dash of a KHQ vehicle, Seitz, helped Dylan gauge the difference between normal driving and driving while using your phone. A red light mounted in front of the driver lights up, signaling to the drive when to brake, or swerve. AJ Seitz then times the driver's reaction time. Dylan averaged about .8 seconds to react to the red light. That was before he had the phone in hand.

Then KHQ tested the reaction time while trying to send a text message. It varied from .8 seconds all the way up to nearly 5 seconds. Each reaction was inconsistent and almost 3 times as long as the average reaction time of about .8 seconds. 

"At 60 miles per hour you are traveling 90 feet per second. If you take your eyes off the road for even 3 seconds just to look down at your phone that's the length of almost a football field." Seitz said.

The Thompsons have been working with the State of Washington to try and create some awareness so kids, even adults learn from their tragedy. They are hoping their tragic loss will create awareness for texting and drive and prevent anyone from having to go through what they've been through.

The family paid for a sign to be placed along Highway 195 where Sam was killed in honor of him and reminding drivers not to text and drive. The sign will be only the second of its kind in Washington.

The Thompson family is raising money to put up road signs in Sam's memory and remind people to not text and drive. Here is how you can donate.

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