Ben Lieberman is a Chappaqua dad like so many others in so many ways. But, he is unlike most in one heartbreakingly distinctive way–he had to bury one of his children.
Seven years ago, the Lieberman family’s lives were forever changed by that phone call we all know as “a parent’s worst nightmare.” Their eldest, 19-year-old college freshman Evan, was being airlifted to the Level 1 regional trauma center of Westchester Medical Center (WMC) in critical condition due to injuries sustained in an automobile crash. Evan had been a passenger–a sleeping, rear-seat, belt-buckled passenger in an early morning car pool commute to a summer job.
The Liebermans immediately rushed to WMC, took up bedside vigil and never left Evan’s side. They slept on air mattresses in the hospital waiting room, and prayed and willed their son to beat the 10% first night survival odds doctors gave him. And Evan responded, fighting long and hard for his life for a solid month. Ultimately, however, he lost his battle, and the Liebermans lost their son and brother.
What do you do when you lose a child? Even in theory, it’s a question that is hard to think about; parents aren’t supposed to bury children, it just doesn’t make sense. Eventually, through a civil suit, the Liebermans gained access to the driver’s cell phone records, and determined that the driver had been texting during the drive and near the collision, Lieberman relayed. The crash happened in a dead cell zone, Lieberman also noted, so it couldn’t be determined either way what the driver’s exact activity was when his car crossed the double yellow line.
Ever since, and to honor Evan’s memory, the Liebermans have dedicated themselves to the dual causes of finding solutions for distracted driving and raising money for Westchester Medical Center.
Educating the Public About Distracted Driving
Combatting distracted driving has been a long, steady push to draw attention to the fact that distracted driving is as big an issue–if not bigger–than drunk driving.
Lieberman partnered with New Castle Town Supervisor Rob Greenstein and Police Chief Charles Ferry to create the “Hands Off the Phone and On the Wheel” initiative. Signs, banners and freely distributed magnets featuring the stopped hand logo (which also signifies the 5-point violation) are visible throughout town.
Lieberman also co-established Distracted Operators Risk Casualties, aka DORCS, –with the front passenger’s mother, Deborah Becker–to help spread the message far and wide that distracted driving causes terrible injuries and takes lives. And he began work with an Israeli phone forensic company, Cellebrite, to develop a device that would enable police to determine whether a driver’s cell phone was being used at the time of an accident. They called the device a Textalyzer for its similarity to the Breathalyzer.
To counter the arguments from various civil liberties groups, Cellebrite even figured out a way to make sure the device simply determines data usage without accessing personal information. In 90 seconds, the technology generates a report that details illegal typing and swiping but also differentiates legal voice activation and Bluetooth.
Pending Legislation for “Evan’s Law”
Lieberman, Greenstein and Ferry met with New York State Senator Terrence Murphy and Assembly Assistant Speaker Felix Ortiz to introduce the device, and to discuss a bipartisan state bill that would make New York the first state to attempt a distracted driving policy solution.
Ortiz, who was instrumental in the 2001 legislation banning the use of handheld devices while driving, stated: “We did a good job in implementing hands-free law; unfortunately, at a crash, the law can’t be enforced without an eyewitness or unlikely confession.” The proposed Textalyzer bill, a solution aptly named “Evan’s Law,” would enable police to examine phones at an accident site using the Textalyzer.
Governor Cuomo directed his Traffic Safety Committee to study the Textalyzer and the bill is pending.
Meanwhile, interest continues to grow and spread nationally, and Lieberman, who testified in Chicago, California, Washington, D.C., was recently honored with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Lifesaver’s Award for Public Service at the 2018 Conference in San Antonio Texas.
When not travelling and working to make our roads a safer place for all, Lieberman, together with his wife Debbie, is involved with fundraising for Westchester Medical Center through their now-established non-profit “Evan’s Team.”
According to Lieberman, the fundraising started “almost by accident.” The Liebermans’ many friends all wanted to contribute something, to help in some way; many suggested various events and community gatherings that would keep Evan’s sports- and fun-loving spirit front and center while raising money in his memory. They started with mud-runs, poker nights, dodgeball games (one of Evan’s favorite activities). These events were a hit and filled a need.
And, says Lieberman, “ended up raising real money.” Thus, Evan’s Team was established; its first project, renovating the waiting area of WMC.
Evan’s Team Fundraising Efforts
The family felt fortunate that Evan received excellent medical care, but they found the waiting room areas and experience were lacking in basic necessities. “There was nowhere to sleep, shower, or get a nutritious meal. There was no privacy; doctors and families were discussing the most intimate details of life and care without the dignity of private space.” With the generous funds donated by Evan’s Team, WMC’s Trauma Intensive Care Unit is now able to offer families “The Evan Lieberman Friends and Family Lounge”–a comfortable and dignified space complete with consultation rooms, private sleeping spaces, locker rooms with showers and an always-stocked nutrition center.
Evan’s Team’s grass-roots outings have grown to become a well-sponsored and attended annual event. The local community continues to get involved, and friends who have since moved away return to reminisce and take part. It’s still “all about Evan and something he would have loved,” says Debbie. Golf, tennis, and, of course, Evan’s favorite dodgeball/funball make for a day of play, while the evening is capped by a dinner and much-anticipated car raffle. This year’s car is a 2018 blue Mercedes 4Matic, convertible with a sleek saddle interior. It’s a beauty!
Parked at the top of King Street, in front of Quaker Hill Tavern, the car stands as an invitation to buy a raffle ticket (only 1,000 are sold each year), to join Evan’s Team and support such a worthy cause and to remember that driving is a privilege that requires attention, concentration and respect for the road and other drivers. Money raised from the event will go to Evan’s Team’s latest project–funding Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital’s Child Life and Creative Arts Therapies, dedicated to meeting the unique emotional, developmental and cultural needs of each child and family in their time of crisis.
To learn more about Evan’s Team including the upcoming outing event and car raffle, please visit: www.evansteamny.com