SAN ANTONIO – A grandfather was behind the wheel as his granddaughter sat in the backseat.
They were at a complete stop because of backed-up traffic along Loop 1604 approaching Interstate 10 during rush hour when a Jeep Rubicon slammed into their car going 60 mph.
“Without even braking,” Karin Zaltsman said, “because he never looked up from his phone.”
Karin’s daughter, Emily, was killed in the wreck that happened on Sept. 14, 2017.
Emily’s grandfather survived.
“He can never talk about Emily, never says her name,” Zaltsman said. “He lives with that survivor’s guilt.”
But Zaltsman is talking in the hope of preventing another family from going through the pain she lives with every day.
Last Thursday, she spoke before the San Antonio City Council about how distracted driving has impacted her life.
“How would you feel if this was you?” Zaltsman said from the podium. “How would you feel for the rest of your life for something that can wait?”
Emily was on her way home from a volleyball game when the crash happened.
Zaltsman was substitute teaching that day at her daughter’s school. She had lunch with Emily and saw her before she left for the game.
“I said, ‘good luck, Em,’” Zaltsman recalls. “And she said, ‘thanks, Mom.’”
Emily loved sports and played every one she could. Her favorite was swimming. She hoped to join the Clark High School swim team one day.
She hoped to become a doctor one day and work with Alzheimer’s patients.
Zaltsman will not call her daughter’s death an accident.
“An accident is something you cannot avoid - a tire blowing or an animal running into the road. Something that takes you completely off-guard and you have very little time to react,” she said. “Distracted is different. You’re causing your own distraction.”
Paul Soechting was charged with manslaughter and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon for the crash.
The family is still waiting for a trial date to be set.
“Now I watch all of her friends - they’re seniors this year, and I see them going to prom and getting their acceptance into colleges,” Zaltsman said. “And I won’t every get to do that. Emily won’t ever get to do that.”
In the wake of her death, Emily’s family created #AlwaysforEmily, putting it on bracelets and visor clips. The clips depict an angel with brown hair, like Emily, and wearing a blue and green dress, her favorite colors.
Her family has distributed them as a way to remind people behind the wheel that distracted driving kills.
Today, Emily’s bedroom looks the same as it did the last day she left for school.
But her family certainly feels what’s changed.
And her mother wishes people would pay attention not just to their story, but the road.
“Until it happens to them, until they kill someone, until they lose someone, they’re not going to understand,” Zaltsman said. “Because they don’t know what it feels like.”