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Bright, outgoing college teen Taylor Sauer proved in the last minutes of her life she knew right from wrong — but still committed a fatal mistake.
Sauer was making a late-night, four-hour drive from the Utah State University campus in Logan to visit her folks in Caldwell, Idaho. She passed the time along I-84 messaging a pal on Facebook about the Denver Broncos football team. But she stopped short, writing in her final missive, "I can't discuss this now. Driving and facebooking is not safe! Haha."
Moments later, Sauer, going more than 80 mph, slammed into a tanker truck that was slowly creeping up a hill at 15 mph. She was killed instantly; investigators saw no signs that she applied the brakes before the fatal crash. And in checking her cell phone records, they learned Sauer was posting about every 90 seconds during her drive.
"I think she was probably (texting) to stay awake, she was probably tired," Taylor's dad, Clay Sauer, told Ann Curry on TODAY Monday. "But that's not a reason to do it, and the kids think they're invincible. To them, (texting) is not distracting, they're so proficient at texting, that they don't feel it's distracted driving."
Clay and Shauna Sauer, still grieving over their 18-year-old daughter's Jan. 12 death, have become lobbyists in their home state to urge the state legislature to pass a ban on texting while driving. Idaho is one of 13 states in the U.S. that has no such law in place.
Taylor Sauer's future seemed a sky-is-the-limit proposition: She graduated high school last year with a sparkling 3.9 grade point average, was class salutatorian, played first base on her softball team and was active in community charities. After she was named a National Merit Scholar, she told a local TV station, "I want to go even further and take on the world."
But her mom told Curry that Taylor was also in many ways a typical teen who got caught up in the modern-day, multi-tasking world.
"There was a time when we were all able to get into a car and drive, and listen to the radio or talk to our family," Shauna Sauer said. "Now, we feel like we've got to get just everything done in the car, and I just think we need to be a little bit...simpler."
Just weeks after Taylor's death, the family testified before the Idaho State Legislature as it considers a texting-while-driving ban, a bill that has been shot down before in the state. Poignantly, Taylor's 11-year-old sister told the legislature that Taylor "would never be her bridesmaid," and mom Shauna told the assembly, "What if that one person was your daughter?"
The state has an inattentive driving law on the books, which some lawmakers say covers texting, but Shauna Sauer noted a driver must be visibly witnessed by police breaking a driving law to be pulled over. And Clay Sauer told Curry he believes a new Idaho law would serve much as the once-debated seatbelt law did decades ago.
"I think every state should have the (texting ban) law," he said. "It might not make changes right now, but (for) the younger generations it will be an educational tool, just like the seat belt (law).
"We all fought against seat belts, (but) now, everybody wears seat belts. The kids will be trained and learn from a young age that they can't text and drive."
Working to help other young people avoid the tragic fate of their daughter helps motivate the Sauers now as they still process their grief.
"(Taylor) just loved everybody and was an amazing friend," Shauna Sauer told Curry. "She wanted to take on the world, and she would have."