For the past year, 16-year-old Caytlin Johnston has worked hard to decrease distracted driving among teens, speaking in schools, working with police departments on emphasis patrols and creating a video that will be shown in driver-education courses.
The message is important to the North Thurston High School junior, whose brother died in a car crash six years ago.
To commemorate William Johnston’s death, South Sound police conducted a distracted driving emphasis control and made contact with about 75 drivers countywide. Anne Larsen, of Thurston County’s Target Zero Task Force, explained that not all drivers who are contacted receive citations.
Often, an officer talks to the drivers about speeding or distracted driving, and hands them a flier telling William Johnston’s story.
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William Johnston, 18, died Oct. 19, 2010, after he lost control of his car on Hawks Prairie Road, first hitting a power pole and then a fence. A Washington State Patrol investigation concluded that speed was a factor in the crash. His two passengers sustained minor injuries.
On the anniversary of her brother’s death, Caytlin Johnston received a series of awards honoring her work with the Target Zero Task Force. The project earned her the Girl Scouts Gold Award, the highest honor given by the organization. It’s similar in prestige to the Boy Scouts of America’s Eagle Scout rank.
“This isn’t something you can just cram into a weekend,” Larsen said. “It took months, and months, and months. We’re really proud of her.”
During a ceremony at Olympia City Hall, Johnston received coins honoring her service from the Olympia Police Department and the Thurston County Prosecutor’s Office.
As Olympia Police Chief Ronnie Roberts handed Johnston his department’s coin, he joked that he wanted her to come back in a few years and exchange the coin for a badge.
Prosecutor Jon Tunheim said teens like Johnston represent hope.
“The one thing that we know about hope is that it’s contagious and inspirational,” Tunheim said. “And this young woman standing right here is the face of hope.”