Just a few days before Christmas, John and Marilyn Bachman sat together and had lunch at their rural New Hampshire home. Married for 22 years, they talked about the holidays and maybe taking a vacation soon.
After lunch, John, an engineer, left the house to head back to the office, but first decided to get the mail. Marilyn put on her coat and prepared to do last minute Christmas shopping.
Marilyn thought she heard someone calling for a dog. She heard the voice again. It was louder and more urgent. Curious, she followed the voice, toward the end of her driveway
As she reached the end, about 35 feet from their front door, she saw John. He was lying in the snow, conscious but unable to move, and seriously injured.
He repeated the words “hurt” and “truck” to her. The mailbox door was open with the mail still inside. Marilyn quickly called 911. John, her husband and best friend, was rushed to the hospital.
In an effort to keep John alive, the hospital staff quickly worked to identify the extent of his injuries. Throughout all of this, John remained conscious and kept repeating, “hurt.”
As she held his hand, he stared directly into her eyes and lightly squeezed her hand two times - their secret way of saying of I love you. Then he went into cardiac arrest and passed away. Marilyn would never see him smile again.
John was hit and killed by a truck when he was collecting his mail. An alert was put out for the driver, who did not stop at the crash scene. The 20-year-old, who turned himself in, said he thought he hit a snowbank or mailbox. He also admitted to texting while driving. Investigators reported the driver’s eyes were off the road for seven seconds.
After a five-day trial, the driver was acquitted of all charges. Marilyn decided more needed to be done to raise distracted driving awareness and laws needed to be changed to hold distracted drivers accountable.
Her next journey
The local Junior Woman’s League approached Marilyn about planting a tree in John’s memory. Marilyn, however, had a different idea. She asked the women to purchase thumb bands for distribution throughout town, with messaging designed to encourage drivers not to text while driving.
At the local high school, the resource officer distributed the thumb bands. After an article about the effort was printed in the local newspaper, donations began to flow in for more thumb bands. Local businesses handed them out to customers, more donations came in.
Marilyn knew more needed to be done.
She actively sought out public speaking opportunities and became a passionate advocate for “hands free” driving legislation. Marilyn was contacted by Sue Centner of the Community Alliance for Teen Safety (CATS), which receives funding from State Farm.
“We heard about Marilyn and her courage, and wondered how sharing her story could help save lives in our Derry community and throughout New Hampshire,” said Sue. “Marilyn was determined to make a positive impact in the lives of others.”
Marilyn joined forces with CATS, the Derry Police Department, and Dartmouth’s Injury Prevention Center to produce a televised roundtable discussion about New Hampshire’s proposed hands free driving law. This program was distributed through the cable networks throughout the state.
Marilyn remained a positive force, working with local and state police, CATS, the NH Driving Toward Zero Coalition, and other highway safety advocates. They supported a legislative effort that resulted in New Hampshire becoming the 15th state to ban drivers from using hand-held electronic devices while driving. The law took effect on July 1, 2015.
Marilyn believes legislation and education efforts will help prevent further tragedies like hers. So she continues to share her story at high school assemblies, hoping to make a difference.
“I remember, after Marilyn finished speaking during one presentation, the students spontaneously stood and applauded,” said Sue from CATS. “Marilyn clearly made an impact and she continues to do so throughout the state and at national traffic safety conferences.”
Marilyn is committed to preventing this type of tragedy from happening to others. “John was incredibly generous and dedicated much of his time to his community, serving as a firefighter for 18 years and as the fire chief for four,” she said. “He was an umpire, a master gardener, and a well-known columnist for a local newspaper.”
“One thing that would make me happy is to have the driver responsible for John’s death to join me at speaking engagements,” said Marilyn. “I think he could be a phenomenal advocate and that could be a big step in the healing process for us both.”