Ashley's Final Message Leaves Lessons

MANHATTAN, Kan. (WIBW) - Amanda Umscheid grips the turquoise-colored cell phone in her hand, running her thumb over a small scratch on the corner. It's a small scratch, she says, that bears evidence to the life-changing event it survived, but its owner did not.

In its memory, the phone contains the final words exchanged between Amanda and her 19-year-old younger sister, Ashley.

It was around noontime on a Saturday, May 16th, 2009, when Amanda and Ashley started exchanging text messages, as they regularly did. The date was the nine-year anniversary of their father's death. Ashley, a K-State freshman, asked Amanda if she was coming to a family reunion planned for the next day. Amanda replied, "Yeah."

"The conversation suddenly stopped," Amanda says. "She responded with the letter 'K,' but I never got it."

Amanda didn't realize her sister was driving on K-18, on the edge of Manhattan headed toward Ogden. Before she could hit "send" on the letter "K," her truck drifted off the pavement. Ashley overcorrected and the truck rolled, taking chunks out of the highway and tossing Ashley through the window, despite her seatbelt.

A half hour after their conversation ended, Amanda got a call from her mother to get to Stormont-Vail Hospital in Topeka. Three days later, Ashley died.

"I was angry," Amanda said. "Being the older sister, I do feel responsible. I was angry at myself that we could be so negligent to let something like this happen."

But through their grief, Ashley's family is driving home a message. Amanda appears in a national ad campaign for AT&T putting a face on the dangers of texting while driving. She also serves on a national committee and has started speaking to groups nationwide.

"Everybody thinks they're invincible until it happens to them," she says. "There's no way to drive that home to somebody - that they're worth so much more than a text."

Amanda's one hope is that people - particularly teens - will listen to her story and take it to heart. That, she says, might begin to repair a small part of what left her heart broken.

"I want her to remembered as the most amazing little sister that anybody could ask for," Amanda said, "and I don't want another family to lose what we've had to lose."

Ashley lives on in another way - her family donated her organs and tissue, which they are told assisted 17 people.

Hear Amanda Umscheid speak:
Amanda will share her story at Stormont-Vail's "YOLO - You Only Live Once Injury Prevention Expo for Teens." It's from 5 to 7 pm, Wednesday, October 10th at Hummer Sports Park. The free event includes food, prizes, activities and speakers. All teens are welcome.

Ashley Umscheid's family keeps the cell phone with the final message she sent.