STEPHEN, Minn. - Feb. 29, 2016 is a date that remains emblazoned in Tom Goeltz's memory.
That was the day his daughter, Megan, was killed by a distracted driver near Stillwater, Minn.
Already a mother of a 2-year-old daughter, Megan was pregnant with her second child - a son - at the time of the crash. Since her death, Goeltz has been traveling across the country trying to educate people on the dangers of using phones while driving.
On Wednesday, Goeltz brought his safety message to hundreds of students gathered at Stephen-Argyle Junior/Senior High in Stephen. The event brought in students from several other nearby schools, including Marshall County Central, Goodridge, Greenbush-Middle River, Lancaster, Kittson Central, Tri-County and Grygla.
"It is an important topic," Goeltz said. "It doesn't always happen to other people. Sometimes it's out of our control because there are so many people not paying attention when they drive."
Over the past three years, there have been at least 40,000 motor vehicle-related deaths in the United States, according to National Safety Council statistics. A good number of those likely result from distracted driving, said Goeltz, who works as a safety consultant for insurance broker Hays Cos.
Despite strides in safety technology, the number of motor vehicle deaths has been increasing in recent years. Motor vehicle-related deaths grew in 2016 and 2017 after years of decline, according to Goeltz.
Megan was waiting at a stop sign when she was broadsided and killed by a distracted driver. Earlier this year, the driver of that car pleaded guilty to one count of reckless driving, which is a gross misdemeanor in Minnesota.
Before Megan's death, Goeltz didn't think twice about using a phone in the driver's seat.
"I used to use my phone all the time" while driving, Goeltz said. "Talking on the phone, texting, emailing, looking at my bank account, Facebook, Twitter - all that stuff you read about in the paper ... I'm embarrassed to actually tell you that."
But that changed when his daughter died. Goeltz said he stopped all phone use while driving "cold turkey" after Megan died. And once that happened, he noticed how prevalent it was among other drivers.
"Nine times out of 10, when I look in my rearview mirror and look at the person behind me at a stoplight, I see the top of their head because it's buried down in a phone," Goeltz said.
"It's everywhere. That's when I noticed how rampant an epidemic it is."
When a person driving at 55 miles per hour takes a few seconds to read a text, they'll likely travel more than the length of an entire football field, Goeltz told students.
Goeltz acknowledged that many students in attendance may not be of driving age yet. But he urged them to spread the safety word to the drivers in their lives.
"All of you ride with friends, or with parents. Take that message home," he said. "The life you save might be your own. It might be a family member or one of your friends."
David Gunderson, an employee of natural gas provider ONEOK Inc., helped bring Goeltz to Stephen-Argyle. Before Goeltz took the stage, Gunderson said he hoped the speech would "create conversation at home and in the vehicle," and urged students to "put the phones down" in the car.
As his presentation wrapped up, Goeltz left students with one final request.
"Don't change for me. Don't change for my daughter," Goeltz told students. "Change for you. Change for all your friends that love you. Change for your relatives. Your parents, brothers and sisters. Because they'd rather have you alive."
Madison Mock, a 10th grader at Stephen-Argyle, said she found the speech "very inspiring."
"I thought it was a really good presentation," added Cara Wick, another 10th grader at Stephen-Argyle.