• Levitan Family Recognizes Hands-Free Georgia

    By TextLess Live More | Posted Monday, July 2nd, 2018

5th Year Anniversary of Losing Daughter to Distracted Driver

Press Conference & Award's Ceremony, Georgia State Capitol, July 2, 2018

To recognize the Hands-Free Georgia Act, which went into effect July 1, 2018, the family of Merritt Levitan, an 18 year old young woman hit by a distracted driver on July 2, 2013, and TextLess Live More (TLLM), a student-led, national awareness campaign to end distracted driving, founded in her honor, held a press conference and award’s ceremony in the South Wing of the Georgia State Capitol.

Merritt’s younger sister Hunter (21) and brother Joe (18) presented the TextLess Live More Service Award to Rep. John Carson, who co-authored HB 673, and Sen. P.K. Martin, the administration floor leader who supported the bill in the Senate – for their legislative leadership on the Hands-Free Georgia Act.

Students Against Destructive Decisions’ (SADD) National Student of the Year, Lauren Roscoe, presented Georgia educator Mary Belechak , a school counselor at Glynn Academy in Brunswick, Georgia, with the TextLess Live More Hero Award for her work to end distracted driving. Belechak has presented TextLess Live More to over 2,000 Georgia high school students in Glynn County since learning about Merritt’s death in 2013.  TextLess Live More is a partner of Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD), the nation’s premier youth health and safety organization, which also seeks to end distracted driving and the loss of life and serious injuries it causes.

The Levitans announced a call-to-action for the remaining 34 states in the nation to pass Hands-Free legislation and pledged their support and commitment to work with organizations, specifically Stop Distractions.org, to ensure Hands-Free passage across the nation. The Levitans and TextLess Live More, along with StopDistractions.org and Massachusetts-based Safe Roads Alliance, will hold a rally on the steps of the Massachusetts State House on Wednesday, July 11 at 12:30 to press for Hands-Free legislation in Massachusetts.

They also committed to creating End Distracted Driving PSAs to raise awareness among teens about the new Georgia law and the dangers of distracted driving. Anna Cheshire Levitan also shared the Kiefer Foundation’s Stop Distracted Driving Campaign, a PSA competition, awarding $50,000 in scholarships to young people ages 16 or older. The campaign spans across the “100 Deadliest Days” of distracted driving (concluding Sept. 3) and will award scholarships to the top five videos with a grand prize of $25,000 and an opportunity to produce the concept professionally.

July 2, 2018- Atlanta, Ga: A photograph of Merritt Levitan, left, is shown during the TextLess Live More press conference in recognition of the Hands-Free Georgia Act which went into effect July 1st at the Georgia State Capitol Monday, July 2, 2018, in Atlanta. The TextLess Live More activities July 2nd are in honor of Merritt Levitan, an 18-year-old woman who was hit by a distracted driver five years ago today. Levitan died of her injuries the day after being hit by the vehicle. Photo by JASON GETZ / GETZ IMAGES

Here are the remarks made by the Levitan Family in honor of Merritt.

(Anna Cheshire Levitan/Merritt’s mother)

Thank you all for coming today. We are the Levitans. On behalf of my husband Rich, our children Hunter and Joe, our family members and friends who have come to Atlanta today and those who are watching from across the United States – on behalf of TextLess Live More, a national student education and awareness campaign to end distracted driving, founded in honor of our daughter Merritt Levitan, hit by a distracted driver on this very day five years ago, July 2, 2013, and on behalf of our partner Students Against Destructive Driving, we stand in prayerful solidarity, strength and hope with ALL families who have lost loved ones to distracted driving – on this important day in Georgia.

We come together today to recognize Hands-Free Georgia, as an impactful and meaningful law that will save lives and prevent tragic accidents associated with distracted driving.

We come together today together to say thank you to two Georgia lawmakers who championed Hands-Free Georgia and worked tirelessly to make driving safer for everyone in our state – passengers, pedestrians, cyclists and travelers.

We come together to recognize a Georgia educator who – long before Hands-Free Georgia was a reality – championed the TextLess Live More message to educate and raise awareness among young people about the very real, tragic and dangerous consequences of distracted driving and took action.

Because One text. One snapchat. One stream – can end a precious life. As was the case five years ago today, when on a sunny day, blue-sky day in July, a young driver struck our beautiful, vivacious and brilliant 18 year-old-daughter Merritt. Merritt suffered traumatic brain injuries from the impact – and our brilliant, brilliant daughter died the next day.

Words fail. The impact of July 2, 2013 reverberates still.

July 2nd is a special day, especially in our family – the day when a series of text messages ended Merritt’s life and changed the course of our lives irrevocably – and it is a special day FOR ALL families who have lost a loved one to distraction.

It is a special day for anyone who drives in the state of Georgia.

Thank you Representative Carson and Senator Martin. Thank you, Governor Deal. Thank you for stopping all future stories like ours. Thank you for ending distracted driving. Thank you for saving lives. Thank you for preventing tragic crashes due to distracted driving.

As the granddaughter of the former President Pro Tempore of the Georgia Senate, Judge Julian Webb, the important work you do in this very building protects the well-being of Georgia’s citizenry. Today my grandfather, Merritt’s great grandfather, along with Merritt and all the others above lost to distracted driver, are smiling down in support of the work you have done with Hands-Free Georgia to save lives.

(Rich Levitan/Merritt’s father)

Our message today is one of recognition and thanks, but also a Call-to-Action for the remaining 34 states in the United States to pass Hands Free Legislation.

Today, we formally announce a collaboration with Stop Distractions.org, a nonprofit organization dedicated to eliminating the lifelong devastation that results when a loved one is killed or injured in a distracted driving crash, and Students Against Destructive Decisions (S.A.D.D.) to pursue Hands Free legislation across our nation.

Stop Distractions.org along with many Georgia families who lost loved ones to distracted driving, was instrumental in helping Hands-Free Georgia become a law.

Alongside Stop Distractions.org, S.A.D.D., Safe Roads Alliance and other organizations dedicated to Hands Free Legislation, we will take our message next to Massachusetts, where on July 11 at 12:30, we will hold a rally on the steps of the Massachusetts State House to ask for lawmakers Hands-Free legislation.

From there, we will travel to the remaining states to tell our personal story of traumatic, preventable loss and join hands with other families to PASS HANDS FREE.

The facts are clear: you can’t drive looking down. The impact of a 4 ton machine travelling down a road with a driver looking down are clear: death and crashes follow, taking lives and causing preventable tragic injuries.

TextLess Live More is also honored to announce today a “Hands Free PSA” campaign to raise awareness among young people about the new law that went into effect yesterday. We welcome thoughts and ideas on creative ways to spread this message.

And now, I’d like to introduce Hunter and Joe Levitan, Merritt’s younger sister and brother to present the TextLess Live More Service Award to Representative John Carson, who co-authored HB 673, and Senator P.K. Martin, the administration floor leader who supported the bill in the Senate.

Hunter and Joe are two incredibly strong individuals who lost so much so young. Hunter was sixteen when she lost her older sister Merritt to a driver who was texting; Joe was thirteen. Hunter is now 21, a rising junior at New York University, and Joe is 18, a recent high school graduate. Joe will attend Middlebury College next year.

Eighteen – the same age as Merritt when she was hit five years ago today.

Twenty-one – the same age as the driver who killed Merritt five years ago today.

Hunter and Joe are passionate champions of Merritt’s legacy and they are brave. They fearlessly held their older sister in their arms as she took her last breath. As Merritt would have wanted. No sister or brother should experience that – ever.

As sibling survivors, they are committed to telling their story to young people about how one text can end a life. Their work on behalf of Merritt and TextLess Live More is just beginning.

Thank you for welcoming Hunter and Joe Levitan, Merritt Levitan’s younger sister and brother, our pride and joy. Our everything.

(Hunter Levitan/Merritt’s younger sister)

Representative John Carson, on behalf of my sister Merritt, my brother Joe, our entire family and TextLess Live More, I thank you for saving lives in the state of Georgia. Thank you for your work to end the deadly epidemic of distracted driving so no sister has to go through what I have gone through these past five years.

It is my pleasure to present to you today The TextLess Live More Service Award for outstanding service to end distracted driving, save lives, prevent tragic accidents and make Georgia’s roads safer.

(Joe Levitan/Merritt’s younger brother)

Senator P.K. Martin – our sister comes to us in rainbows – place this award near a window and you will think of our sister Merritt when you see the beautiful colors that radiate from the glass. Think of Merritt and all those people who support your important work from above.

It is my pleasure to present you today, on behalf of my family and friends all who have lost a sister or brother to a distracted driver, The TextLess Live More Service Award for outstanding service to end distracted driving, save lives, prevent tragic accidents and make Georgia’s roads safer.

July 2, 2018- Atlanta, Ga: Rep. John Carson, R-Marietta, speaks during the TextLess Live More press conference in recognition of the Hands-Free Georgia Act which went into effect July 1st at the Georgia State Capitol Monday, July 2, 2018, in Atlanta. The TextLess Live More activities July 2nd are in honor of Merritt Levitan, an 18-year-old woman who was hit by a distracted driver five years ago today. Levitan died of her injuries the day after being hit by the vehicle. Photo by JASON GETZ / GETZ IMAGES

(Hunter Levitan)

It is our pleasure to now introduce Lauren Roscoe, SADD National Student of the year from New Rockford, North Dakota to present the TextLess Live More Hero Award. Chosen from a highly competitive pool, she represents the over 500,000 SADD students across the country. Lauren has been an active member in SADD since her middle school days, as she has seen the power of peer-to-peer prevention work at the local, state, and national level. Lauren has led numerous campaigns in her school and community focused on traffic safety, substance abuse, and personal health and safety.

(Joe Levitan)

As the National Student of the Year, Lauren holds a seat on the National Board of Directors, is often called upon to speak to the media and represent the organization in leading advocacy, programming, and field operations. Lauren plans to attend Valley City State University in the fall of 2018 where she will major in Elementary Education.

(Lauren Roscoe/SADD National Student of the Year)

The TextLess Live More Hero Award recognizes an individual who contributes significantly to raising awareness about the dangers of distracted driving among a student population.

Previous Hero Award recipients include the four student founders of TextLess Live More, who in response to the devastating loss of their friend and classmate, Merritt Levitan, recognized digital distraction and distracted driving as a critical issue impacting their generation.

In honor of Merritt, these four student leaders held the first TextLess Live More Day in September 2013 where the entire student body, including teachers and administrators at Milton Academy, in Milton, Massachusetts, Merritt’s high school alma mater, turned off their phones at 8:15 am for the entire school day. From that very first TextLess Live More Day, a movement was born.

The 2018 Hero Award goes to an educator who heard Merritt’s story and immediately knew her students would benefit from the TextLess Live More message. By using creative approaches to reach young people at her high school, our Hero has created TextLess “Prom-More” events during junior senior prom week, Sign-the-Pledge events outside the cafeteria during orientation week, and presented TextLess Live More during senior week to graduating seniors – not only at her high school but also at the neighboring high school, a county rival for sure!

Through her efforts, over 2,000 students in Glynn County, Georgia have heard the TextLess Live More message to end distracted driving.

The 2018 TextLess Live More Hero Award goes to Mary Belechak, a school counselor at Glynn Academy in Brunswick, Georgia.

Mrs. Belechak has been at Glynn Academy for last twelve years, where she has dedicated herself to bringing new initiatives to students that range from diversity and tolerance to suicide prevention to ending distracted driving.

She received her BA from The University of the South and a Master’s Degree in School Counseling from Carson Newman University. She is married to John Belechak, a chef on St. Simons Island, and has two daughters, Sadie Belechak who will be attending the University of the South in the fall and Claire Belechak, a rising 9thgrader, attending Glynn Academy.

Please join me in congratulating the 2018 TextLess Live More Hero Award Recipient, Glynn Academy school counselor Mary Belechak!

July 2, 2018- Atlanta, Ga: Lauren Roscoe, the SADD National Student of the Year, right, presents the TextLess Live More Hero Award to Mary Belechak, a guidance counselor at Glynn Academy in Brunswick, Ga., during the TextLess Live More press conference in recognition of the Hands-Free Georgia Act which went into effect July 1st at the Georgia State Capitol Monday, July 2, 2018, in Atlanta. The TextLess Live More activities July 2nd are in honor of Merritt Levitan, an 18-year-old woman who was hit by a distracted driver five years ago today. Levitan died of her injuries the day after being hit by the vehicle. Photo by JASON GETZ / GETZ IMAGES

(Anna Cheshire Levitan)

Thank you all once again for coming to the TextLess Live More “Recognizing Hands-Free Georgia Act” press conference and award’s ceremony. Thank you most importantly for listening to our story – Merritt’s story – to end distracted driving. We will now answer questions any questions or speak to the press about our mission.

July 2, 2018- Atlanta, Ga: Richard Levitan speaks next to his wife Anna Cheshire Levitan, far right, and Jodi Rigby during the TextLess Live More press conference in recognition of the Hands-Free Georgia Act which went into effect July 1st at the Georgia State Capitol Monday, July 2, 2018, in Atlanta. The TextLess Live More activities July 2nd are in honor of Merritt Levitan, the daughter of Richard and Anna, an 18-year-old woman who was hit by a distracted driver five years ago today. Levitate died of her injuries the day after being hit by the vehicle. Rigby also lost her five-year-old son Glen in 2005 to a distracted driver. Photo by JASON GETZ / GETZ IMAGES