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Fox Lake cop a head of text-and-driving campaign

DarwHarms 15 Ingleside fills out Pledge Not Text Drive petitiGrant High School which was hosted by Fox Lake Police Department

Darwin Harms, 15, of Ingleside fills out a Pledge Not to Text and Drive petition at Grant High School which was hosted by Fox Lake Police Department School Resource Officer Russell Zander. | Thomas Delany Jr.~Sun-Times Media

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Texting and driving

Three months in jail and a $750 fine is the penalty for being caught texting and driving in Illinois.

Six collisions are caused every 10 minutes because of cellphone usage.

You are four times more likely to get into an accident if you use a cellphone while you drive.

Eight percent of the drivers admit to downloading apps or watching TV or videos on their phones while driving.

Seven people die every day from accidents involving cellphone use.

Nine out of 10 teens say they’ve seen drivers distracted by cellphones and other things.

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Updated: March 17, 2013 6:07PM

FOX LAKE — For St. Baldrick’s Day, police officers shave their heads, but in Fox Lake, Grant High School’s Police Resource Officer Russell Zander has been growing his hair so he can shave it into a Mohawk that will be dyed Bulldog red.

His effort is part of an awareness campaign idea he ad where students, staff and community members sign pledges not to text and drive. He told them that if he got 500 pledges, he’d shave his head and sport a Mohawk with the school colors.

“I’ve got the stylist scheduled. It will be Wednesday morning in the cafeteria,” said Zander, who usually sports a shaved head. “This is more hair than I’ve had in 20 years,” he said with a laugh.

As students found out when he set up his big display complete with giant 3-D cellphones, there have been plenty of fatal accidents, pictures and stories on the Internet about kids texting and driving, and the carnage that can follow from the dangerous practice.

“It’s the number one killer in America of teens,” he said.

He dug up even more statistics to illustrate how dangerous it is and put them on the pledge that people signed: It makes a driver 23 times more likely to crash; it’s like driving after having four beers; distracted driving injures 330,000 people every year; car crashes kill an average of 11 teens every day; and by taking your eyes off the road for five seconds to text, it is like driving the length of a football field completely blind.

“Sometimes with teenagers you have to put it right in their face,” he said of his display that included car crash pictures and stories of fatal accidents. There were also signs, posters and bins to drop off pledges stationed around the school.

Chris Carlson, 42, an arts teacher who helped with printing the 3-D cellphones, signed the pledge, but admitted, “This is going to be tough to do. No more changing songs on my iPod2 (while driving),” he said.

Amber Frey, 15, of Fox Lake, who doesn’t have her license yet, pointed out the obvious and took extra pledges for home. “Even our parents do it,’ she said.

Her friend Hannah Abernathy, 15, of Fox Lake felt good about the effort to get 500 signatures from students. “It’s not going to be that hard,” she said, and she was right. Their friend Amber Hurtado, 15, of Fox Lake is learning from her mother. “My mom gives me the phone so I can text for her,” she said.

Mattie Hubbard, 14, of Round Lake Beach, said she has been in a vehicle when the driver was texting. “I just said don’t text because it’s dangerous,” she said and she liked Zander’s idea. “I thought it was cool because he’ll shave his head,” she said. Her friend Macey Lipp, 14, of Fox Lake agreed. “I told my brother not to text,” she said.

Principal John Barbini of Wauconda welcomed officer Zander’s efforts. “It makes sense because so many students in the building have cellphones,” he said, “Texting is a way of life for teenagers.”

“It’s an issue that has to be dealt with,” said Barbini, who appreciates the officer’s street knowledge that he brings to other classes like consumer fraud and health classes. “He can bring good awareness to these issues.”

This is the first year the school has had a resource officer after three years of not having one because of budget constraints. Once they had the available manpower, “it was the first thing we did was get someone back here,” said Zander.

And he is not there in the role of “cuff and stuff” where all the officer does is deal disciplinary problems. “I’m not and that’s not my goal,” he said, “I want to be a bigger part of the school than just that.”

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