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Balloons carry message about drowsy driving

Posted: Tuesday, May 1st, 2012

On March 25, Larry and Margaret Schlesinger of Mendota found the remains of 18 balloons hanging in a tree on their property. The balloons traveled over 250 miles attached with an important message about drowsy driving. (Photo by Jennifer Sommer)

At 2:50 p.m. on March 19, 2010, Tyler Jacob Warne, 18, of Ballwin, Mo. was killed when the car he was driving drove off I-255 near Collinsville, down an embankment, rolling four to five times until it hit a tree and stopped. Tyler and his passenger were both thrown from the car. Tyler was pronounced dead at the scene.

According to witnesses, there were no brake lights, no skid marks, and no attempts to avoid the accident. Police found no evidence of drugs, alcohol, or reckless driving. The cause of the accident - drowsy driving.

"It was a Friday, a very beautiful Friday. I remember my husband calling me to see where I was and that I needed to come home right away. I knew by the tone in his voice that there was something very wrong," recalled Kerrie Warne, Tyler's mother.

Warne said her son was a very typical teenager. He was a senior in high school; active in school and his social life. He was very outgoing and had an exceptional number of friends. He was an open person, never judged anyone, and was every one's friend.

Now, family and friends gather at Tyler's gravesite on his birth and death dates to release balloons in his memory. "It is a very special way that we honor him," said Warne. Included with the balloons are tags with information so Warne can be contacted if the balloons are found.

On March 25, Larry Schlesinger of Mendota found some of the balloons that had been released six days earlier in memory of Tyler. The balloons ended up on Schlesinger's farm seven miles northeast of town on Welland Road. "I was driving around the farm and noticed something in a tree," said Schlesinger.

Schlesinger's wife, Margaret, pieced several torn tags together to discover the origins of the balloons.

She contacted Warne about finding the balloons and learned about Tyler.

It is now a message for this town that has been sent from over 250 miles away.

"Our family is on a mission to increase awareness and education for drowsy driving," said Warne.

She started a website, www.TyREDD.com (pronounced "tired", Tyler Raising Education about Driving Drowsy) and gives talks at area high schools to make other teenagers aware of the dangers of driving while sleepy.

Warne noted that while most parents talk to their teenagers about the driving dangers of speeding, texting, and drinking, nothing is typically said about fatigue. "The fact is you are more likely to die in a drowsy driving accident than in any other kind of accident. Our young adults are most at risk, and no one is talking about it," she said. "If I had known this I would have discussed this with Tyler. If we save just one live through our efforts than Tyler's death will not be in vain."

After researching drowsy driving, Warne learned that young adults between the ages of 16-24 are most at risk to fall asleep behind the wheel. Boys are more at risk and 2-4 p.m. is one of the peak times for a drowsy driving accident. However, every driver is at risk. According to the National Sleep Foundation's Sleep in America poll, 60 percent of adult drivers, about 168 million people, say they have driven a vehicle while feeling drowsy and more than one-third (37 percent or 103 million people) have actually fallen asleep behind the wheel.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that drowsy driving results in 1,550 deaths, 40,000 injuries and 100,000 accidents each year. Warne also believes that crashes caused by sleepy drivers are under-reported.

It is these alarming statistics that Warne wants to share with drivers.

Warne gave her first TyREDD presentation in April 2011. Since then, TyREDD has gained attention and Warne is starting to present to companies and colleges as well as area high schools. She has collaborated with Matt Uhles, Director of Clayton Sleep Institute. She shares her story and tragic loss then Uhles presents the sleep data and statistics.

"We have been overwhelmed with the response to TyREDD," Warne stated.

There are some tell-tale danger signs that you might be fatigued while driving: difficulty focusing, frequent blinking, heavy eyelids, daydreaming, trouble remembering last few miles driven, missing exits or traffic signs, yawning repeatedly, rubbing your eyes, trouble keeping head up, drifting from your lane, tailgating, and hitting rumble strips.

To prevent a drowsy driving accident, drivers should: get a good night's sleep of seven to nine hours as suggested by sleep experts, drive with a companion and switch drivers when needed on long trips, schedule stops every 100 miles or every two hours, and consult with a physician if they suffer from frequent daytime sleepiness, have difficulty sleeping at night, or snore loudly every night.

Warne will continue to spread the message of drowsy driving. She has given over 75 presentations and the TyREDD website has information and links for site visitors. Kyle, Tyler's father, has been very supportive of the TyREDD organization, too. Tyler's siblings, Austin, 13, wants to one day take over the TyREDD organization and Sydnie, 11, has written a book that she is hoping to have illustrated and published. Tyler will not be forgotten.

Intrigued at finding the balloons released by Warne, Larry and Margaret Schlesinger brought the deflated clump into the Mendota Reporter, but what they really brought was Warne's story and her message on driving drowsy. "Not only do I want my kids to know that when bad things happen we can do something positive, I also want to prevent anyone from having to feel this kind of pain," said Warne. "We want to make a difference. Bad things happen that we don't understand, how we respond to those things is how we are defined by them."

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