Texting may have played role in fatal crash

Posted at 8:13 PM, Feb 22, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-23 04:13:54-05

We're learning more about what might have led to a weekend car crash which killed a West Boca Raton teenager.

Gabriella Heiderick's uncle tells NewsChannel 5 the 16-year-old may have been using her cell phone at the time of the crash.

Now, a roadside memorial remembers a life lived to the fullest, but a life cut too short.

"We'll never know exactly what took place in that car, what went through her head in those last seconds," explains Flavia Heiderick, Gabriella's step mother.

But the family is starting to fill in the blanks.

Investigators say Gabriella crashed her car into a tree on Glades Road near the Turnpike at about 3:24 Saturday morning. Speed appears to be a factor.

Her uncle says friends have told them they received texts and messages from Gabriella at about the time of the crash.

With the spotlight on their loss, the family has a simple message to drivers.

"Kids, stay off phones, stay off your phones," Flavia says. "When you're driving, put it in the trunk, or the backseat. Distraction is a serious thing."

The Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office is investigating the crash, and will determine whether Gabriella was using a phone.

Dave Clark says he sees teens texting too often. He's the principal at Olympic Heights High School, where Gabriella attended. 

He brings in speakers to discuss responsible driving and the school offers a driver's education class.

"Unfortunately, it's a pervasive issue, the texting and driving; and it's just tragic," Clark says.

Today, her school announced it wants to keep her love for the arts alive.

Gabriella should have been rehearsing today. Classmates say she loved theater.

Since her death, the school has decided to start a scholarship in her name. It will go to a high school senior interested in pursuing a degree in arts.

The school will begin collecting money for the scholarship at a performance this Saturday which Gabriella was supposed to be a part of.

"We always look for the best way to honor their presence and who they are.  Especially in the arts, we want to give an artistic outlet and encourage someone who would have been doing a lot of the similar things she would have been doing," explains Brad LIster, the performing and fine arts department chair at Olympic Heights.

The "Broadway Project" will be performed Saturday at 7pm at the high school. 10 percent of the profits will go to the scholarship fund. The performance features Broadway star Tim Shew. Tickets are still available here.

The issue of texting and driving is up for discussion right now in Tallahassee. Both the House (HB537) and the Senate (SB328) are considering bills which make it easier for cops to enforce Florida's texting and driving ban.

Both bills remain in the committee phase of the process.

The Lieutenant governor tells NewsChannel 5 there needs to be more than just a change to the law. 

"Laws can only accomplish so much, but educating the community, letting the kids know, and parents letting their kids know, that distracted driving is dangerous, that's important too," Carlos Lopez-Cantera explains.

Governor Rick Scott, who would be the one to sign any proposed bill into law,  didn't comment on the idea today. Only saying he'll consider anything which comes to his desk.

On top of everything, Gabriella never should have been behind the wheel. Florida law says 16-year-olds can't drive by themselves past 11 at night, unless it's for school or work. 

Her family will have a memorial service tonight at First Brazilian Baptist Church, at 1103 NE 33rd Street in Pompano Beach. It begins at 7 p.m. and should last until 9 p.m. The public is invited to say its last goodbyes.

Gabriella will be buried in a private ceremony tomorrow.