Dom Tiberi shares Maria's Message to a crowd of OSU students on April 8 at the Ohio Union. Credit: Alaina Bartel / Lantern photographer

Dom Tiberi shares Maria’s Message to a crowd of OSU students on April 8 at the Ohio Union. Credit: Alaina Bartel / Lantern reporter

When Dom Tiberi heard a car door slam and his dogs bark at 2:25 a.m., he was thankful his daughter, Maria, was finally home. But when he heard the doorbell ring five times, he knew it wasn’t her.

Tiberi, the sports anchor for 10TV-WBNS, spoke to the OSU community Wednesday morning at the Ohio Union about his “hell on earth” — losing his 21-year-old daughter, an OSU student, to a car accident in September 2013.

He said he and his family might never understand the events that led up to the accident, but can only assume distracted driving was a factor.

“This epidemic that is called distracted driving, it’s just that, an epidemic. It’s anything that takes your hands off the wheel, your eyes off the road, or you mind off your driving,” Tiberi said.

Over the past year, Tiberi has spoken at 38 central Ohio high schools to a total of 26,000 kids as part of an awareness program called Maria’s Message, which is meant to help kids understand the dangers of distracted driving. The OSU event was Tiberi’s first time sharing his message in a college setting.

Gene Smith, vice president and athletic director at OSU, also shared his thoughts about being distracted behind the wheel at the event.

“We’re in one of the healthiest cities in this country because it’s part of our culture and our mission, so we have a lot of bikers and a lot of walkers and a lot of runners, and those people are at risk when we do not drive safely,” Smith said.

There was no evidence Maria Tiberi was using her phone and her toxicology reports showed no signs of drug or alcohol use.

Tiberi said it’s not only about being distracted while driving, but also being aware while walking or biking to a destination, noting how easily many lives can be adversely affected in 1 second.

“Death is ugly. It takes everything you have, and everything you’re going to have. It robs moms, dads, grandmas and grandpas of their dreams for you. I had a dream of seeing her graduate,” Tiberi said. “I had a dream of seeing her get married, and walk down the aisle, and make me a grandpa. And that night at that hospital when I left, I had to leave her there. That was the hardest thing I ever had to do because I couldn’t get her out of this mess, and I couldn’t help her.”

Aaron Wang, a second-year in international studies, said his favorite part about Tiberi’s speech was how it was not only about drunk driving or texting and driving, but a multitude of distracting behavior, including applying makeup or even eating. He said it was important for his peers to hear Maria’s Message.

“For college kids especially, there is a lot more on their minds than an average person. They’re always worried about grades, tests, what they’re doing over the weekend and all of these different things,” Wang said.

Tiberi talked about using defensive driving, which assumes everyone on the road is distracting themselves, in order to protect yourself.

Sarah Flanagan, a fourth-year in chemistry, said Tiberi’s discussion of defensive driving resonated with her.

“A lot of us really don’t think about how tomorrow could not come,” she said. “Defensive driving was the key thing my dad taught me when he was teaching me (how to drive).”

Tiberi ended his speech by saying that Maria’s Message was one of love — to love yourself enough to protect yourself by ending distracting behavior while driving, walking and biking.

“You guys are smart kids. You’re at Ohio State,” Tiberi said. “The standards here are high. You know what you should and shouldn’t do.”