Amanda Kloehr doesn’t quite remember what she was doing when she slammed into the back of a tractor- trailer on Route 13 near Norfolk, Va.
Maybe talking on her cellphone, or trying to find a radio station, or checking her GPS, or fiddling with windows because her air conditioning was broken.
She was doing all those things during her drive from McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey, where she was stationed, to visit a friend in Newport News.
All she knows is, that moment of not paying attention cost her an eye, nearly cost her life and led to more than 20 surgeries to rebuild her smashed face.
Now the Enola woman, 24, warns other people about the dangers of distracted driving.
She has spoken several times to the drivers education class at Northern High School, where teacher David Parry said her talk has more impact than all the statistics and warnings he can put together.
She spoke Wednesday to more than 100 students at Central Penn College in East Pennsboro Twp., where she is a student. The students sat silently as she described her ordeal, accompanied by slides. She warned students against watching if they have weak stomachs.
Kloehr said she was doing nothing terribly wrong when she had the accident on June 20, 2008. She was not speeding, she had not been drinking or taking drugs and she was wearing her seatbelt. But in the few seconds she was distracted, she did not see the tractor-trailer in the left lane waiting to make a left turn.
Her face hit a forklift in the back of the truck. Her car nearly was crushed flat when it slid underneath.
Terry Thomas, an investigator with the Northampton County, Va., sheriff’s office and a firefighter, was the first emergency responder to arrive on the scene. He has become a friend of Kloehr and her family.
In his 20 years as a firefighter, it was the most gruesome scene he ever saw, he said. He expected anyone in the car to be dead. Instead, he heard Kloehr screaming and screaming. Blood was everywhere.
“I was trying to talk to her, but all she could do was scream,” he said. “I was afraid once we took the pressure off her chest, she would die. … The paramedic said she probably wouldn’t make it to the hospital. She surprised us all.”
Kloehr was in a medically induced coma for a week. Her ankle was shattered when an engine bolt pierced her leg. The right side of her face was more or less gone.
For weeks, her friends and family would not let her look in a mirror.
Then one night, she slipped out of bed, hauled along her IV and hopped over to the sink.
“It was a surreal moment,” she said. “I just stared with a sense of detachment. I didn’t really recognize myself until I saw a tear come down my cheek.”
It took her more than a year to learn to walk again. She has 36 plates and 48 screws in her face. She looks relatively normal, but she brushes her bangs over the right side of her face.
Toward the end of her talk, she pushed her hair aside to show her prosthetic eye and the face that is not quite balanced.
She told her audience, “This is what lucky looks like.”
“I’m still here, and I didn’t kill anyone,” she said.
“I want you to think about it and look at it. This could be you or the person you hit because you thought that text message or phone call was more important than paying attention to the road.
People who have heard her speak say they admire her courage in sharing her story and her positive, even bubbly, personality.
“She’s young, she connects and she’s not embarrassed,” Parry said. “You’d think something like that, she’d be withdrawn, but it’s the opposite.”
Thomas said it is unusual for emergency responders to become friends with accident victims, but Kloehr is a special case. She served as master of ceremonies at his fire company’s parade.
“She’s a go-getter with a lot of determination, and she doesn’t back down,” he said.
LaTanya Gilbert, a Central Penn student from Elizabeth, N.J., said Kloehr’s speech was awesome because it was conversational and combined a bit of humor with the serious message. Gilbert has been trying to talk a friend out of texting while driving.
“It touched me because she’s our age, and often we feel invincible,” she said.
Kloehr hopes to take her message to others. She has set up a website at AmandaReconstructed.com if anyone would like to get in touch with her.
“I want to tell as any people as I can so I can save as many lives as possible,” she said.
The link to her story on the Harrisburg Patriot News is at the following link: