NUTLEY, NJ - Nutley High School TV3 Broadcasting Class held an assembly for their annual “Raiders Ride Safe” campaign Wednesday morning, Feb 15 in NHS auditorium. Juniors and seniors were required to attend while freshmen and sophomores viewed the live taped presentation in their classrooms on their cell phones. The presentation will also be found on YouTube- NHS – TV recorded by senior Christopher Conte.
Principal Denis Williams opened the presentation welcoming the students. Williams spoke highly of Jim Kelly’s class. “Raider’s Ride Safe has won many awards for NHS over the years,” he said.
Williams spoke to the students about distracted driving and his experiences with it on a daily basis. “Just this morning there was a truck [driver] not paying attention,” he said. “When you are driving in a car by yourself or friends are in the car, be mindful. Everything is important, everything you do matters. Be mindful every day; every second, because things can change,” he continued.
Senior Darby Fischer approached the podium and led the assembly. “Most distracted driving accidents occur between the ages of 16 to 18 years old,” she said. Fischer asked her fellow classmates, “Who here has a license?” and “Who here is distracted behind the wheel?” Many of the students in the auditorium raised their hands to both questions.
“Freedom can be costly if not handled thoughtfully,” she said. “Eating, drinking, checking hair, make-up, changing the radio, all distractions,” she noted.
Fischer presented the PSA the class put together with senior Madison Montanari acting as the victim. In the video Montanari read the poem “Death of an Innocent” written by Eugina Depasse.
The situation presented was a party hosted by teenagers, everyone at the party consumed alcohol but Montanari. As she drove home, due to another’s drinking, her vehicle was struck “killing” her. The crowded auditorium grew quiet watching the PSA.
The video is shown through the victim’s eyes and mind questioning why she was “killed” when she didn’t follow suit. The segment had footage from an actual accident where Nutley Police Department and Nutley Emergency Volunteer Rescue Squad were on the scene.
Four classmates, Emma Saquing, Jake Hutchinson, Miranda Madrazo and Maggie Spector-Williams took a seat on a darkened stage. Each of the students spoke as a spotlight shined above them telling a story of a real victims of car accidents due to distracted driving, each with a different story.
The victims’ stories consisted of a running a stop sign while texting; taking a ‘joy ride’ texting and driving killing a father and his 10 year old daughter; a tired driver in the rain who lost visibility and was changing music causing a 17 year old to be ejected; and texting and driving hitting a school bus.
You could hear a pin drop when Sangeeta Badlani, of West Orange, walked onto the stage. A collage of photos starting with the Badlani family of four, and then of her son Nikhil growing up, including the scenes from his and her husband’s accident were shown on the projector screen behind her. Songs including Lady Antebellum’s “Need You Now,” Bruno Mars “Count on Me” and Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven” played.
Badlani revisited when she lost her oldest son, Nikhil at the age of 11. She told the story of the day of the accident as if it happened yesterday. “Saturday, June 11 It was a misty morning, it was 7 a.m. and I walked in Nikhil’s room and he was lying on his bed reading,” she said. “He was planning to go sailing with his dad,” she continued.
Badlani went through the whole day as if it was happening all over again. She told the audience how she called her son and her husband, Sunil, and could not reach them. Her son left his phone home. “Around 2:15 p.m. I received a call from an unknown number and I had a hunch it was my husband but it was an unknown voice,” she said.
She then explained how her husband was unaware what Nikhil's condition was nor where they took him. She got a ride from a friend and after an hour driving to two hospitals she finally got to her son and husband. “A team of doctors came in to the room saying ‘Nikhil did not make it’,” she said.
“My son died by a distracted driver; someone’s negligence and we paid the price, the highest kind,” she said with emotion. “We donated his organs, so someone can see the world through his eyes,” she said.
Badlani explained how she had to break the news to his six year old brother. She explained the funeral process and how it’s not supposed to be this way.
She told the students about the Nikhil Badlani Foundation. According to the foundation’s website nikhilbadlanifoundation.org, the mission is to promote traffic safety and help children pursue their dreams in music and academics.
“Ten percent of fatalities are among teens 15 – 20 years old, we need to do something to prevent,” she said. “According to AAA six out of 10 accidents in teens is distraction. The number one cause is other passengers in your car,” she added.
She explained that in 2015 Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno signed Nikhil’s Law. “His law is nothing but common sense,” she said. The law mandates the driver’s license written test and learner’s manual are to both explain the dangers of failing to obey the traffic laws and applicants can take the STOP for Nikhil Safety Pledge.
Badlani asked all present to take the pledge. She asked everyone in the audience as well as those watching from their classrooms to raise their right hand. She invited the students to join them for their Annual 5K Run/Walk on Sunday, Sept. 17 at West Orange High School.
Sunil joined his wife on stage. He said over 1,500 people took the pledge already. He suggested everyone change their voicemail messages to say “I’m on the other line or driving.”
He explained about how you’re nervous when you begin to learn how to drive. “It’s dangerous when you get confident,” he said.
“The story I shared is not very easy, usually I just talk about the Law and the foundation, but today I had to go back in time and open up my heart and all the pain,” Badlani said.
The assembly concluded with a question and answer session with the Badlanis.