We had the honor of meeting Shelli at the Oprah taping last week and she has shared with us the story of her son, Chance Wilcox who was killed in a distracted driving wreck in March 2008.
Here is Shelli, in her own words:
My name is Shelli Ralls and this is the story of my son's (Chance Wilcox, age 25) loss of his life due to a distracted/reckless driver whose distraction was talking on her cell phone.
I have to back up a few days from the accident in order to give the full impact of his story, and it begins on Saturday, March 22, 2008. On this day, my son (Chance Wilcox) decided to ride to Mississippi with his best friend Terrell to pick up a new truck from Terrell's father. Terrell's vehicle had been giving him some trouble and his dad said, "if you come down to Mississippi I will trade vehicles with you."
So off Chance and Terrell went to Mississippi. They arrived in Mississippi on Saturday night and stay over and visit with Terrell's father until Monday morning, March 24, 2008. On that morning they traded vehicles as planned, and headed back to Houston/Spring Texas.
Now, you had to have known my son Chance, he never liked to get very far from home. Even at 25 he would get home sick in about 36 hrs. He was an old sole in that way, and for that reason never really ventured off for any lengthy periods of time. He liked the security of his family and friends around him at all times. Anyway, as the day went on, and as he sat in the passenger seat of the Chevy Silverado, double cab pickup on the ride home, he called all his family members and a lot of his friends throughout the day to tell them he was on his way home. Even though he had not even been gone a full 48 hrs he was ready to get back. I was 3 of those phone calls on that day. One of those calls early on in their trip home was for him to tell me about his pool game the night before and how much he enjoyed meeting his best friends father, whom he had never met because of the geographic issue, and that they were crossing the Louisiana/Texas border and he would call again later.
Well he did call later on my cell phone at 6:30 pm and I did not answer and he left me a voice mail. "Heeeyyyy mom, then a little laugh from him an then he says "so woman (with laughter) why don't you ever answer your cell phone? Ok, I will call you at the house, that is probably where you are. I Love you mom!" He always ended a conversation with anyone with "I Love You". This VM became very important later.
Anyway, he did finally call me at home at 7:28 pm and I answered and we spoke on the phone. He stated that they were just outside of downtown Houston and almost home (Spring, Tx) and he was hungry. He talked about a few general things and said we would talk again the next day.
At 12:30 a.m. I get a phone call from my parents to tell me my son had been in an accident, I immediately jumped up and I said "Dad what hospital is he in and where do I need to go?" My father was silenced for a brief moment and he said "He is not in a hospital, he died" I could not even regsiter what he just said to me, I was instantly in a fog, and I remained in that fog for weeks. Chance had been killed in a wreck caused by a reckless and distracted driver (distraction was the cell phone) at 8:30 pm, 3 miles from my home and only 1 hr after I spoke with him last.
I was in total disbelief. It could not be because I spoke with him and they were almost home. From that second on everything was in slow motion, or I say that except for the fact that when I was finally forced to bury my son 5 days later on March 29, then the time seemed to have been lighting speed and I wanted time to stand still so I would not have to go through with it and I might wake up and it all be one bad bad dream. It was not.
So on March 25, 2008 at 12:30 am (not the time of his death, but the time of the notification) my life, my family's life changed forever. As calls were made to notify people, my house filled with my and his devastated and heart broken family and friends instantaneously. We all sat in the dim lights of the house or in the dark on the back patio under the darkness of the early morning wishing and praying that when that sun rose, it was all going to be different and this had not happened. Although for me, I knew when that sun rose it was for real. A new day and a day that would begin the rest of our lives without him in it. I prayed for the sun to never come up. I literally sat numb and was physically sick.
I spent the next weeks unable to eat, not even drink water without throwing it back up. Could not sleep. I think in those first few days, I never layed my head down for 3 days and I might have layed down for maybe 1 hour or 2 the day before burying my son. So the day breaks on March 25, 2008 and makes us all realize that yes it is real and Chance is gone. My next task is to contact the coroner to discuss retrieval of my son to a funeral home and begin Funeral Plans. This was foreign to me and I was just winging my way through. So I decide I need to go to the funeral home and begin the discussions at the very least. So myself, my daughter and my best friend, we head off to the funeral home, my best friend driving of course.
On the way to the funeral home, my cell phone dings at me, and then it dings again. So I pick it up and it says I have a voicemail. Well when I look at the call it has my son's name "Chance Wilcox". Well, as you can imagine, I absolutely freaked out and started shaking all over and uncontrolably and I scream to my daughter and friend there is a vm dinging me from Chance. And for a brief moment, I was like, see this is all a bad dream. Chance just called. Its a mis-indentity. Well as it turns out, it was the voicemial that my son had left me the night he was killed on my cell when I had not answered and he then called me at my home. You see, I never heard that voicemail, as I never used my phone again that evening. That is why I state earlier that the voicemail at 6:30 pm on March 24, 2008 would become very important to me later. Well this was the time. I am on my way to make arranagements for my son and then hearing a voicemail from him and he ends it with "I love you Mom" I cherish that voicemail til this day and have it copied off and saved onto multiple tapes so I can hear his voice anytime I want to, and most of all hear him say "I Love You Mom" It think that is the gift he and god left me.
So we go to the funeral home and make the arrangements that I never wanted to make. The days leading to the funeral and the funeral itself is all just one big blur to me. If it were not for my daughter, Chance's big sister, to help me do ALL the things required, I could not have made it through to that point. We bury Chance Wayne Wilcox on Saturday, March 29, 2008. This would become the worst day of my life. Then we go into those long days following and in those days, I finally decide I need to find out the exact circumstances of my son's death. You see, prior to his burial or even the week after, I was not mentally up for ever wanting to have to ask that question and get the answers. But as the days went on, I then became overwhelmed with needing the answers.
I contacted the officers that worked the accident (wreck) and at that time is when I was told about the actions of the driver that caused the wreck and that an investigation was going on and that it would take weeks or even several months before they could tie it all down. I was astonished to find out that because someone was on their cell phone and had missed their entrance onto a freeway by approx 100ft. and attempted to enter anyway, caused this catastrophic accident (wreck). I prefer to call it a wreck because this was not an accident. This was a chain of events that was 100% preventable. She should not have been on the phone, and when she did realize she was going to miss her entrance, she could have gone on to the next one, but she didn't and then caused the death of, Chance Wilcox, age 25, and many more lives were ruined and changed for a lifetime.
Jeri Dawn Montgomery was eventually charged with Criminal Negligent Homicide with a Deadly Weapon, on October 2, 2009 and sentenced on October 5, 2009. The charges were based on distracted driving, with the cell phone as the distraction, which caused an unsafe lane change and failure for proper lookout, these are illegal. In the State of Texas, talking on your cell phone is not yet against the law, therefore the cell phone was only used as the distraction that then caused the illegal actions whereby she was charged. We were lucky in that we got a guilty verdict from the jury and she was sentenced. However, she has since filed an appeal. She filed an appeal on probation! Myself and my family are just astonished that someone would appeal probation, when they should have received a prison sentence. So we sit and wait, once again, for justice. In the meantime, the only thing I can do is continue to advocate against reckless/distracted driving in hopes that we do not continue to have family's lives ruined from such senseless/preventable acts.