Dying Changes Everything: Brian’s Story

The following piece was written by Tammy Garlock, a woman who suffered the loss of her son, Brian, in 2008 due to distracted driving. Tammy has made it her mission to travel around the country and share Brian’s story, to hopefully urge people to stop this awful problem.

I’ve met Tammy, and I’ve heard her story in person. It’s unbelievable what her family had to go through… but what’s more amazing, is that she’s using her family’s tragedy to try to help others. I truly cannot imagine.

Grab your tissues, folks… this is a good one.

And thank you, Tammy, for all that you do.


Thursday, June 12, 2008 began like any other ordinary day but unfortunately didn’t end that way. Sometimes one small decision, a mindless choice, really, can alter your life forever. You see, dying changes everything.

My husband, John, and I met for lunch that day, and as we waited his phone rang and he stepped outside to take the call (I assumed it was because of bad reception, but it was actually because John couldn’t understand the caller).

It was a friend of our son, Brian, trying to tell us our 17-year old son had been in a car crash, that he was unconscious and bleeding somewhere in Pineville. Exactly three weeks earlier, Brian had gotten his full driver’s license, and exactly one week earlier, almost to the minute, we had finally given him his car, a light blue 2000 Honda Civic.

From the moment John received that telephone call at 11:51 a.m., our life became a waking nightmare. Brian gained his freedom and control with those car keys, and now he was in serious trouble – the greatest fear of every parent was now our reality: our child was injured and alone.

We were overly aggressive and reckless driving there, desperate to reach him and afraid of what we would find when we did. Brian was taken by ambulance to the closest hospital, and then flown by helicopter to Carolinas Medical Center’s main trauma center.

In less than two hours, it was all over. The words of the surgeon and the look on his face are burned into my heart and soul: “I’m very sorry; your son didn’t make it. He died.”

Brian never regained consciousness from the moment of impact. There were no goodbyes, and life as we knew it was over. Our entire family died that day, and we are no longer the people we were.

It took many months of grieving before we were able to acknowledge a very simple truth: our beloved son and brother, Brian, lost his life due to a series of seemingly inconsequential decisions that many of us take for granted daily.

This horrific chain of events began with a distraction, one that is quite common in our community and all across North Carolina. Brian looked down at his cell phone to make a call, looked up and followed his friend’s truck across oncoming traffic, and never looked to the left.

His car was struck in the driver’s door by an oncoming truck, and the force of the collision spun his car around and it was hit again by a second truck in almost the exact same location on the passenger side.

This journey through the valley of shadows and sorrow is difficult and never ending, and we struggle every day since Brian’s death to be strong and carry on without him.

For the last ten years, we focused our outreach efforts on teens, and through them, endeavored to reach their families; sadly, it hasn’t been nearly enough, as evidenced by the upward trend in crashes, injuries and fatalities across this great state.

In late 2015, we collaborated with (now former) Senator Jeff Tarte to introduce hands-free legislation in the NC General Assembly which became known as The Brian Garlock Act. Unfortunately, that bill never gained significant support and was never heard. Tarte also introduced this legislation in 2017 with unfortunately the same result.

Despite these setbacks, we continued to hold out hope when early this year Representative Kevin Corbin (R- Macon) introduced the Hands Free NC Act, modeled after the recently enacted hands-free law in Georgia.  The proposed House bill has a bipartisan list of forty-six sponsors, but support in the Senate remains not quite as certain.

Logically, we know legislation shouldn’t be driven by emotion nor be developed in response to prevailing sentiment in a given moment. In fact, I’ve had those things stated to me almost verbatim several times when speaking to state legislators about this very issue. For me it begs the question, then what should it be based upon?  What will it take to convince a legislator that this is right decision and the next logical step?

Me and my family have driven many miles and spent more than a few hours speaking with legislators, offering up recent research data, current traffic safety statistics from North Carolina as well as from Georgia, and of course, providing the perspective from our own personal area of expertise: life after losing Brian. 

A wise person recently reminded me, “The legislative process is a marathon Tammy, not a sprint.”  Our experience over the years certainly bears this statement out, but when lives are hanging in the balance, patience is not our strong suit.

We believe if sharing Brian’s story changes just one person’s driving behavior and another family is spared the pain that is our constant companion, then his death will not have been in vain.  

If sharing it with state legislators will help convince them to do that which we cannot – enact a hands-free law that will help change EVERY person’s driving behavior in North Carolina – then we will finally be able to rest a little easier, knowing we’ve done all that we could possibly do.

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