Politics & Government
2:59 pm
Mon September 16, 2013

Milwaukee Mom: Texting Driver Paralyzed My Son

Lake Effect's Stephanie Lecci interviews Milwaukee mother Valetta Bradford and her 8-year-old son, Xzavier Davis-Bilbo.

A Milwaukee woman tells the story of her son's injuries at the hands of a texting driver in a new documentary - and hopes others will take action.

Milwaukee mom Valetta Bradford and her son Xzavier, who was paralyzed by a texting driver three years ago, are featured in a new national campaign and documentary about distracted driving.
Credit AT&T

It was a beautiful 70-degree October day in 2010, when Milwaukee mother Valetta Bradford let her two children walk to the nearby park to play.

It was a small afterschool reward, a walk they'd made a thousand times.

But as then five-year-old Xzavier Davis-Bilbo and his then 13-year-old sister Aurie crossed the street, a distracted driver ran a four-way stop and hit the boy on the wrong side of the street.

Xzavier, known as "X" to his family and friends, was dragged, the scooter he had flung over his shoulder taking the brunt of the force. But the damage was done.

"If he was the height of an average five-year-old, he probably would have been decapitated," Bradford says.

The driver dissipated X's spine and narrowly missed his brain stem, paralyzing him from the diaphragm down. Today, X is on life-support and gets around with the help of a motorized wheel chair and a team of round-the-clock nurses. Though he still has the use of his arms and hands, he has trouble opening and closing his fists.

Bradford is grateful, though, that he is still cognitively all X. He is smart, at the top of his third-grade class, and likes what any other 8-year-old likes.

"I like to play games, I like to do art, I like to go outside to the park and I like to go out places," he says, while petting his dog, Shi-shi.

Bradford tells the story of X's injury in the difficult, but moving new documentary, "From One Second to the Next," directed by acclaimed documentarian Werner Herzog. It's part of a national "It Can Wait" campaign spearheaded by AT&T to prevent distracted driving.

It's gone viral in recent weeks, reaching more than 2.3 million views on YouTube.

In the film, Bradford explains that the driver was texting, "I'm on my way," when she struck X. No brake marks were found at the scene.

"I'm asked the question often, 'Do you know what they were texting?'" she says. "I don't know why that becomes important to people, but it's burnt in our memory."

Because Wisconsin had not yet passed its texting-while-driving laws (they would go into effect in Dec. 2010), Bradford says the driver only received two citations totaling about $170. Even now, she worries that the current laws aren't being enforced.

"It infuriates me a little bit more and it makes me struggle harder to do what it is I do," she says. "Somewhere in Congress, somebody has to be listening. Somebody has to be paying attention that my five-year-olds life is worth $179."

So Bradford has become an advocate against texting and driving. Each year on the anniversary of X's injury, she hosts an "Xman" rally. She also is a guest speaker at driver's ed classes and high schools.

As her son continues to recover from his seven surgeries and still has nightmares about the incident, Bradford says it is anger that keeps her going.

"I'm not some lady driving down the street, screaming irate, 'Hey! Stop texting on your phone, you meathead!'" she says. "I'm thinking to myself every time I see someone texting and still driving after all of the work that we're doing, 'How can they still be doing this?' And that just encourages me to keep going, keep up the fight and keep up the struggle."

And then this year, AT&T came calling. But the documentary's producers first approached Bradford to get in contact with the driver who paralyzed X. Bradford convinced them - and Herzog - to change course.

"He was compassionate and he understood where we came from," Bradford said of the filmmaker. "He understood my efforts and what we're trying to do."

Though Bradford says she's shocked by the response the documentary has received, she knows there's a lot more work to be done.

"This morning, I saw six people texting, at least seven or eight people dialing and then talking on their phones," she says. "That was only a 10-minute ride, so I don't know about things changing, but we get a lot of positive feedback."

She hopes the message will spread from person to person, and to eventually get in front of legislators to make a nationwide change.

"I would love to have a good half an hour with the House," she says. "I think I could maybe change at least 40 minds."

As for X, Bradford knows his dreams of becoming a football player are over. But she hopes that he can enjoy the rest of his childhood, that his injuries don't get the best of his body, and that he lives a long life.

Governor Scott Walker has proclaimed September to be "Don't Text and Drive Awareness Month" in Wisconsin.