Mrs. New Mexico takes on distracted driving
AZTEC — The newly crowned Mrs. New Mexico is educating the community on the dangers of distracted driving, a platform she adopted after her father was killed and her mother was severely injured in a car wreck caused by an inattentive driver.
Aztec resident Summer Jakino-Whistle won the pageant title on June 25 at the African American Performing Arts Center in Albuquerque. She also took home the awards for "Best in Evening Gown" and "Most Photogenic."
This marked the second year Jakino-Whistle participated in the event. She finished as the second runner-up at the 2015 pageant.
Jakino-Whistle said that while it was a great privilege to win the pageant, her goal now is to raise awareness about distracted driving.
"It’s really important to not just be a girl that waves in parades, but a woman that has a powerful statement," Jakino-Whistle said.
In a recent interview at her home, she detailed how her family coped with the wreck that killed her father, Michael Jakino. As a result of the crash, her mother, Robin Jakino, had most of her left leg amputated.
The wreck on U.S. Highway 550 north of Durango, Colo., happened on Sept. 6, when the motorcycle Robin and Michael Jakino were riding north on the highway was hit by a pick-up truck traveling south.
Michael Jakino was pronounced dead at the scene, and his wife was transported to a Denver hospital with life-threatening injuries.
The driver of the pick-up truck, Kristen Moon, 25, crossed the center line and struck the motorcycle, according to a report by Colorado State Patrol. Moon received two citations for careless driving resulting in death and injury.
She pleaded guilty to both charges on Feb. 9, according to Colorado court records. She was sentenced to two years of probation and 300 hours of community service for the charge of careless driving resulting in death and received a deferred sentence for the other charge.
Michael Jakino was a partner at the Farmington accounting firm Solga & Jakino P.A. Robin Jakino served as a volunteer chaplain for more than 10 years, primarily at the San Juan Regional Cancer Center.
Summer Jakino-Whistle, along with her husband and their two sons, were vacationing in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, when the wreck occurred.
She recalled she returned to the family's hotel room and noticed a myriad of text messages alerting her to the news. The family left Mexico on the first possible flight back.
After a stop in Farmington and Durango, they arrived in Denver to visit Jakino-Whistle's mother, who remained in an intensive care unit for nearly three months after the wreck.
Robin Jakino's left leg was partially amputated in the crash, and her pelvis was basically "shattered," her daughter said. An infection in the leg forced doctors to eventually amputate most of the limb. Recently, she moved into Namaste House, a Farmington assisted living facility.
"I was really mad at first, then depressed for a couple of weeks,” Jakino-Whistle said of her feelings after the wreck. "When you have two little boys, you kind of have to get it together quick."
Raising community awareness
A national report released in April found that 10 percent of fatal crashes and 18 percent of injury crashes in the U.S. in 2014 were due to distracted drivers. Those crashes killed 3,179 people and injured an estimated 431,000 people.
The report, released by the U.S. Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, also found that 9 percent of teen car crash fatalities in 2014 involved distracted driving.
Distracted driving occurs when the driver’s attention shifts away from the road, according to Aztec Police Chief Mike Heal. It can be caused by a number of actions, including cellphone use and adjusting a car radio.
Several New Mexico police departments, including the Aztec Police Department, receive additional funding to target distracted drivers, Heal said. Aztec police use that funding to pay overtime to officers who look for and issue citations to distracted driving.
"it’s very much a danger," Heal said.
Both he and Jakino-Whistle are working to increase awareness about distracted driving. Jakino-Whistle will operate a booth at Aztec’s National Night Out on Tuesday, and she is working with Heal on organizing presentations for local high school students.
"I’m excited about it," Heal said. "Anything we can do to help keep distracted drivers from driving, the better off we’ll be."
Latisha Joseph, development director for the Farmington Boys and Girls Club, invited Jakino-Whistle to speak to the Helpful Heroes Junior Civitans because the group includes many teen drivers.
"It was good for them to hear a personal story," Joseph said.
The outgoing president of the club, Austin Fosnot, said Jakino-Whistle asked members of the group to sign pledges after her July 7 presentation promising they would not text and drive. Fosnot said her story made the message more personal.
"Her emotions, she showed them through the presentation," he said. "That made the presentation that much more important."
'A source of inspiration'
As Jakino-Whistle prepares for the Mrs. America competition Aug. 25 to 27 in Las Vegas, she is also working to make changes to the enforcement of distracted driving laws. She said she is working with lawmakers to write legislation to increase penalties for distracted drivers.
"The most effective change you can make is a law," she said.
A funeral for Michael Jakino is scheduled for Aug. 5 at St. Mary’s Church in Farmington. It was on hold as Robin Jakino recovered from her injuries.
Before Jakino-Whistle visited her mother in the hospital after the wreck, she stopped at the site of crash and collected pieces of her parents' motorcycle from the side of the highway. Now, she keeps them in a small wooden box draped in an American flag. That box is on the same shelf as her pageant awards in her living room.
Jakino-Whistle said it is a reminder of the wreck and the inspiration her father continues to give her.
"The box is a source of inspiration," she said. "It inspires me to raise awareness, instill change and hopefully help save lives."
Joshua Kellogg covers education for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627.