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By Shreen Shavkani

This past weekend, tragedy struck the state of Georgia: just days after winning the national football championship, UGA offensive lineman Devin Willock and staff member Chandler LeCroy were killed in a car crash. Due to high speed, their car went off the road, striking power poles and trees and causing Devin Willock to be ejected from the vehicle and die at the scene. Chandler LeCroy died after being transported to the hospital.

Others were also injured in the crash, including recruiting staff member Victoria Bowles and offensive lineman Warren McClendon. All four of the people involved in the crash were in their early twenties.

All roadway deaths are devastating, however, it is particularly jarring to lose someone immediately following a moment of triumph and celebration. Feeling joy, then grief in such close proximity reminds us that we are only one moment, one small decision, away from loss; that the best moment of your life can be followed by the worst.

So, what happens when we lose our champions? Whether those champions are athletes at the pinnacle of their careers, lauded actors, or beloved sons, daughters, or friends, the answer is the same: a community in mourning. Families with empty seats at their dinner table. Friends with an extra game controller. Siblings with no one to turn to. Champions, in all the many forms they may take, are lost forever, leaving us wondering what could have been.

When this happens, we grieve, and I am watching people throughout my home state do that just this week. Grief can take multiple different forms, all of which are valid and should be honored. However, I am here today to ask you to turn your grief into action. Action which can prevent tragic crashes like this one and save lives on Georgia’s roadways and beyond.

Anna Levitan, a lifelong Georgian who lost her daughter to a distracted driver in 2013, knows all about that.

“Sometimes in life, you’re faced with unexpected, profound tragedy,” she says. “At that point, the question is: what do I do? I can collapse, retreat, be angry, hurt, and destroyed, or I can do something that is empowering and healing. Those are the only choices. Are we going to go into a corner, curl up, and never come out, or are we going to come out and make a difference? You have to make that decision, and sometimes you have to make it daily.”

Anna and the Levitan family are an instrumental part of TextLess Live More, an organization founded in honor of Merritt. On making the decision to engage in activism surrounding her loss, she says, “profound grief, anger, sadness is there, and yet I get up each day and choose to make a positive impact in my life and the lives of those around me.”

One easy way for you to take action in the wake of this tragedy is to use this moment to discuss roadway safety with your family and friends. At SADD, a great place to start is with our Passport to Safe Driving. Created with our partners at the National Road Safety Foundation, the Passport is a toolkit designed to help teen drivers and their parents/adult allies learn proper driver safety. Information about driving topics such as nighttime driving and speed are available, with resources aimed specifically at teens and adults.

Another resource is the Contract for Life. This document, available in English and Spanish, is designed to facilitate communication between young people and their guardians about potentially destructive decisions related to alcohol, drugs, peer pressure, and other reckless behaviors. The issues facing young people today are often too difficult to address alone. SADD believes that effective communication between adults and children is crucial in helping young adults to make healthy decisions.

I call upon everyone reading this to sign the contract for life today in honor of Devin Willock and Chandler LeCroy, and to send the link to one friend. This simple commitment can save a life.

And while I strongly recommend taking advantage of SADD’s free resources, sometimes something as simple as a conversation, or even a few words before heading out the door–” drive safely”, “call me if you need a ride”, “remember to buckle up”–can make all the difference.

All of us at SADD Nation, especially those in the Peach State, are keeping the Willock and LeCroy families and all others affected in our hearts and minds. Stay safe and be well.

Sign the Contract for Life here.

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