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Eyes on the Road: Gone in a Moment

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SHENANDOAH - It's may seem like a matter of moments, but taking your eyes off the road to text and drive is a dangerous habit.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says drivers who use hand-held devices are four times as likely to get into a crash serious enough to injure themselves. And with more people texting these days, the issue of texting and driving is gaining speed in eastern Iowa and across the country.

On Monday night, we begin a series of stories to take a closer look at the issue.

Most of us have seen it happen, a driver distracted by a cell phone swerves and nearly causes a crash. Too often, that distraction turns deadly.

We traveled to the small southwest Iowa town of Shenandoah, where a woman isn't just grieving for her loss, she's leading a nationwide push for a law against cell phones and driving.

Melissa Dinges moved to Iowa from her Hesperia, California, home when her little sister, Angelina was four years old.

"We talked, she would send me drawings as she was growing up," said Dinges.

Despite the distance in years and miles, the sisters were close. But in one moment in November of 2009, tragedy tore the pair apart.

"We had dinner, watching TV then at 9:30, I got a phone call." Fifteen-year-old Angelina was gone.

"She was in an accident and she was killed. And it was very surreal," said Dinges.

An 18-year-old driver was texting and talking on her cell phone, when her truck swerved and hit Angelina and her two friends as they were walking home.

"It was about three houses away from my mother's house, which is where my sister lived....I don't know if it was instinct or by accident, but she pushed her friend out of the way when it happened."

That friend was airlifted to the hospital with serious injuries. Angelina died on impact.

"The day that we buried her, I made a promise to her that I would do everything in my power to try to change this."

Melissa became the first Iowan to join FocusDriven, a group dedicated to stop distracted driving.

Her message is showing up everywhere, from newspapers in Iowa and California, to the radio and on TV.

"Because of something that should be so common sense, a lot of lives are changed."

Melissa knows a law won't stop drivers from texting or talking, but she hopes they'll at least think twice before they take a life.

"There is no phone call or text message that is that important that it can't wait."

The San Bernandino County Sheriff says the 18-year-old charged in the crash made two phone calls and sent three text messages in the minutes leading up to Angelina's death. She faces 15 years in prison.

California passed a law against cell phones while driving two years ago where a driver hit and killed Angelina.

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