Four years after the death of Shenendehowa senior Chris Stewart, his mother, Regina Stewart, continues to honor her son’s memory by urging others to drive responsibly through her Steer Clear campaign.
Christopher Stewart was 17 in the winter of 2012, driving home from a basketball game with three friends on the Northway, when his car was struck by another vehicle. The other driver, 22-year-old Dennis Drue of Halfmoon, was under the influence of marijuana and alcohol and speeding at the time of the accident, and possibly also texting. Stewart had been abiding all traffic laws.
Stewart and passenger Deanna Rivers, 17, were killed. The other passengers, Bailey Wind and Matt Hardy, both 17, were injured. Drue pleaded guilty to all 58 charges against him and was sentenced to five to 15 years in state prison.
Regina Stewart said she lost her job after her son’s death and struggled to find a way to move forward in life without her son.
“My life had spiraled on me and everything I thought I had a grip on was gone,” she said. “I couldn’t eat and lost 25 pounds. I couldn’t sleep due to nightmares and panic attacks.”
One of the hardest parts of the whole experience was the total lack of control she felt. “There was nothing I could do to alleviate the anguish or change the situation,” she said.
In the years since her son’s death, Stewart has used her story to advocate for safe and responsible driving. Her latest project, Steer Clear, uses vans as moving billboards. Stewart has teamed up with two local businesses and design students at Shenendehowa to come up with a design and slogan for the van.
For Stewart, Steer Clear means, “quite simply, driving your car free of any distractions.”
Mohawk Honda donated a van to Clifton Park company, MovinAds, for the campaign. Stewart said the van will be used by MovinAds for “work purposes so it will be seen all around the Capital Region.”
Stewart will also take the van to events and speaking engagements.
Stewart also approached Shenendehowa high school’s graphics design teacher, Sallie Way, and asked if her students would help create a Steer Clear logo.
“I felt that the Shen students might be receptive to the idea of helping me seeing that Christopher had been a student there his whole life and the tragedy was still so fresh. It made me feel good spending time at Shen in a place my son loved and I thought it was poignant that Christopher’s schoolmates be a part of making this concept a reality,” Stewart said.
So far, the 24 designs submitted have been narrowed down to five, with slogans including “Drive alive,” “Distracting driving kills, your life is on the line” and “Just drive.”
The design featuring the slogan “Just drive” includes images of martini glasses, cigarettes or joints and other distractions toward the back of the van and clean white paint on the front end of the van — an image which invokes the idea of pushing distractions as far away from the steering wheel as possible.
Community members were invited to vote for their favorite design on the “RIP Chris Stewart” Facebook page. The winning design will be unveiled just before prom season starts this month.
“My hope, although I know I’ll never be able to quantify it, is to have them hear some words from me that will resonate going forward,” Stewart said.
Shenendehowa Superintendent Oliver Robinson said, “It is vitally important that we keep driver safety and the avoidance of distracted driving at the forefront of people’s mind, children and adults alike.”
Stewart hopes the Steer Clear van will cause drivers to pause and think about the decisions they make behind the wheel. “I want people to think about what could happen because after it does you can say you’re sorry as many times as you want but it won’t undo the damage. No one means to cause a crash so some forethought is needed to prevent one,” she said.
“I’d like to be that subconscious mom voice in all the kids’ ears and I’m hopeful some of the kids that hear my words will not forget them. Life is precious and none of us are invincible,” said Stewart.
Reach Gazette reporter Cady Kuzmich at 269-7239 or [email protected]