A Mother’s Plea to Virginia’s General Assembly: “Our legislators have the opportunity and responsibility to finally pass the hands-free law in Virginia and I call on them now to do just that.”Leave a Comment
Mindy Schulz’s five month old son, Tristan, was killed by a distracted driver. Since then, Mindy has worked tirelessly to raise awareness about the devastation distracted driving can cause and to encourage the Virginia General Assembly to pass a hand-held phone ban. The following are remarks shared by Mindy at a press conference on December 23rd. They are reproduced here with her permission.
Thank you for having me here today. Thank you for listening.
When I was asked to speak, I wondered what I could say that would make any difference to you? What could I say that would wrap up in a few minutes the impact that one moment destroyed for a lifetime? What could I say that would help you to remember the reality and consequences of choices?
And I thought of the numbers. Things like these always want to hinge on statistics and numbers.
2016. 3/17. 5 1/2. 8/31. 8:09. 4,700. 17. 1000. 6. 4. 16.
These are the numbers that now bring visceral reactions from me. There is pain, a horror and revulsion. I realize now, these numbers represent trauma.
2016 was the year my life was perfect, and then destroyed. Two lives of the same person exist in that spans of time, and I find it difficult now to remember how it felt in my life before.
3/17 was the date my beautiful second child, Tristan Beckett Schulz, was born, the day my heart was full, and the moment I knew the true meaning of contentment.
I can still feel the weight of him in my arms, though my arms are empty now. No one told me just how much that empty arms are the heaviest load to bear.
5 1/2 were the months I got to spend with Tristan, absorbing every moment of his developing personality, his constant energy and inquisitiveness, and his pure delight and wonder at the world. The memories are bittersweet now, precious yet pained. I remember what was, and will always wonder what would have been.
“What if?” is the greatest yearning to the soul, and “WHY?” its greatest torture.
8/31 was the date my beautiful second child, Tristan Beckett Schulz, was killed in front of me.
I can still hear the cacophony of collision and smell the warm asphalt of that summer day, I can feel the heat of the SUV engine radiating. I can still feel the moment my son’s stroller was ripped out of my hands as that Jeep Grand Cherokee slammed into us.
My last memory of the moment my son was alive is right as a distracted driver was killing him.
8:09. While the driver was on his way to his golf instructor job in Loudoun County, Virginia, independent forensics of his phone showed that he sent a text at 8:09am, which is during the same time period authorities identified for the crash.
The driver says he never saw Tristan and me.
He came from behind and drove over 80-feet before turning left into my son and I as we had nearly finished the signal lit crosswalk.
He didn’t slow.
He didn’t swerve.
He accelerated his 4,700-lb Jeep Grand Cherokee into my 18-lb son and me.
The sound of that engine still haunts me. I’ve seen him still driving that vehicle and it has sent me into a dizzying panic attack, fighting for survival and consciousness.
Trauma, PTSD, is a sickeningly cruel thing. It makes you fight to operate in a world that appears normal on the outside, yet your brain shows you all the chaotic Hell that has been or could be. It’s like watching life with the overlay of a horror movie and your eyes and heart strain to make sense of which is the true reality.
17 and 1,000.
For 17 months I had to live less than 1,000 feet from that driver.
For 17 months I had to watch the man who killed my son get to live his life normally, unfettered, carefree, and happy while my life, and my family, had been destroyed.
I was forced to pass his house every single time I needed to leave my neighborhood or take my son to school.
Torture like that takes a severe toll on the body and mind. My family and I were forced to move from our home to survive.
5 1/2, 6 and 4.
5 1/2 were the hours I spent on the stand in court testimony at sentencing after the trial had been cancelled.
6 months is the amount of time he reported to local jail with over 4 months of that spent working at the golf course instead of a jail cell.
I could tell you of the joy and love that Tristan was in our lives, but instead I’ll ask you to consider the children in your own lives and the love and joy you feel. A parent’s bond is eternal, our souls are melded with our children because they are part of us, forever and always.
The moment I knew my son was dead was the moment I felt my world physically rip apart. My heart has been in a tortured state of visceral longing in searching for him ever since.
I remember that moment. It was the moment they told us our son was dead.
Then they asked if we wanted to see him.
I remember the agony in my husband’s heartbroken and desperate wail when he saw our son’s body.
I remember being wheeled into the small grayish room in the hospital with its monitors and tubes. It felt like the walls were morphing and collapsing in on us. I gasped for air through broken ribs. My husband was on the far side of the bed in the room so there was room to wheel me in on the near side. He collapsed and shuddered over the bed in the center of this Hell. My husband rarely cries.
On the bed, strapped to a small backboard, was my sweet and beautiful baby.
As always, it was Tristan’s eyes that I noticed first.
His soft, round cherub face was gently tilted to the right. Toward me.
His eyes that day haunt me still.
I had always loved his eyes… so much life, and wonder and joy… so much personality. His eyes always made me smile.
But now… they were open… staring… completely lifeless.
The sparkle in his eyes that had always lit up my heart had become a dull sheen on immovable orbs. His eyes had been life. Now they were just drying… dull… vacant. His eyes were those of a corpse. A small, soft, corpse with the squishy rolls, cheeks and round balding head of an infant.
My baby… was dead.
The energy of that truth slammed into me with such force that I felt my chest smashed with it. It forced out of my lungs what little breath I had left. I gasped for air. My mind felt unhinged, chaotic, dizzying with a desperation of trying to cling to the Now yet wanting to be anywhere else but that moment of reality.
I tried to reach over my aching body to caress Tristan’s little head like I had done thousands of times before. Rod gently stopped me and told me to be careful. I was annoyed and didn’t understand. I learned later that Tristan’s skull was so shattered that the grotesque softness of it was what Rod was protecting me from.
I just remember being desperate to hold my son, this aching need to just take all of his pain away.
A desperate rage overtook me. My fingers fumbled and struggled, my lungs in agony from the effort with broken ribs. I just needed my baby! I just needed to hold my baby and take all of his pain away!
Then my husband gently pulled my hands away as the nurse explained that Tristan couldn’t be released from it all because the medical examiner hadn’t seen him yet. I didn’t know then that my son was far too broken for me to hold.
I remember that that moment extinguished all the fight I had left, and my head collapsed as near Tristan on the bed as I could get. There was nothing left.
What more could anyone take from me? My child had been killed.
My baby was lying as a cooling corpse just inches from my face.
I remember I reached for his chubby baby hand, my index finger slipping into his curved palm, waiting for his strong and gentle grasp that would come next as he tried to pull himself up.
But there was no grasp. There was no strength. There was only the laxity of death.
I gently used the other fingers of my hand and thumb to hold his fingers around mine. His hand wouldn’t clench. There was nothing.
And his hand was too cool. Much colder than I remembered that morning.
It all started to sink in….
There was nothing there.
There was no heat of life. No twinkle to his eyes that were staring over my shoulder.
No smile on his too-still face.
There was no laughter that would make my heart dance every time I heard it.
No sweet coos or babbles from the precious voice I could never listen to enough.
As I had done infinite times before, I caressed Tristan’s hand, softly stroking my thumb over his baby skin and chubby softness. Creases upon creases of my adorable baby rolls just waiting for the next growth spurt to catapult him to standing, and walking, and running. With it would have come his joy, wonder and laughter.
The realization of what would never be thundered at my heart, echoes of future memories faded into true oblivion.
I remember taking stock of his injuries at that moment, learning later of far more than my eye could see.
Purple and red, raw and beaten, bloody, cut and bruised… my baby’s body had endured more than I could let my mind imagine.
It sickened me and I felt the bile of horror rise and choke in my throat. I was going to be sick. And always, it was his eyes that haunted me. Where there had been joyous life and curiosity, where there had been laughter and sparkle, there were now two lifeless orbs staring blankly into nothingness.
I gently reached over to softly close Tristan’s eyes.
My husband stopped me, and attempted that respectful moment of care.
But Tristan’s eyes would not close.
They remained open, staring, a witness to the carnage a distracted driver’s choice had caused.
16 is the number of days before the Virginia General Session convenes for 2020. In 16 days, our legislators have the opportunity, and responsibility, to finally pass the hands-free law in Virginia and I call on them now to do just that.
(Author’s note: Tristan’s parents are supporters of tissue and organ donation and allowed Tristan’s donation for Donate Life America, Virginia https://www.donatelifevirginia.org . Tristan’s heart valves were all that could be donated, and Tristan’s donation saved the lives of two little girls.)