McMinn County deputy, Cocke County teen team up to combat distracted driving

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By SHELBY MILLER
6 News Reporter

NEWPORT (WATE) – A crushed McMinn County cruiser and a totaled Honda Civic sat in front of Cocke County High School Friday morning.

The cars are chilling reminders of the crash that left Deputy Randy Gabrel and Nick Austin, 17, seriously injured and in the hospital for days in June.

“The car just kept coming and at the last minute, I held onto the steering wheel and closed my eyes because I knew what was coming,” said Deputy Gabrel.

Deputy Gabrel was driving down the road on June 4 when Austin’s car crossed the center line, hitting the cruiser head on.

Previous story: McMinn County teen, deputy injured in alleged texting-and-driving crash

Investigators say Austin was texting leading up to the wreck.

Rather than holding a grudge against the teen driver, Deputy Gabrel decided to use the accident to garner change. Together, the two are trying to keep this near-tragic accident from happening to anyone else. They’re visiting schools across East Tennessee to talk to students about distracted driving.

“We bring the cars as a visual aid. You know, I can show you pictures all day long, but until you see the wreckage and you see the mangled metal, you don’t really understand it,” said Deputy Gabrel.

Cocke County High School students prepared for Friday’s presentation by making posters in their driver’s education class, with the goal of reminding others to not text and drive.

Although Austin is typically at the events, he couldn’t make it Friday. Still, the students at Cocke County High say seeing the aftermath of the accident firsthand makes them realize the dangers on the road.

“It really opens your eyes to see the kind of damage that can really happen just off of one simple mistake,” said Cocke County sophomore Jeremy Hensley.

Deputy Gabrel and Austin hope to keep visiting schools and events across East Tennessee to spread awareness. If you’re interested in having them visit, you can contact the McMinn County Sheriff’s Office at (423) 745-5620.

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