Joel Feldman crossed the finish line at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Virginia Beach Half Marathon last month and began sobbing. They were not tears of joy. Feldman was mourning the death of his 21-year-old daughter, Casey, who will never walk down a wedding aisle, never give him grandchildren, who cannot wrap her arms around her father and say, “I love you, Dad.”
Casey Feldman died six years ago, killed by a distracted driver who sped through an intersection and struck Casey, who was walking to her summer job as a waitress.
Remembering the finish-line scene at Virginia Beach, Joel says, “Everyone was real happy and they’re high-fiving. They were jubilant. I didn’t feel that way.”
Joel, who will run the Rock ‘n’ Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon on Oct. 31 near his hometown, is telling his story by phone. You can hear his voice cracking, sense the tears beginning to well.
“I was thinking about Casey,” he says, “thinking about the only reason at 60 years old I’m running is because my daughter is dead. … I’m alive and my daughter is dead. I have a future and she doesn’t. That’s the way it is until the day I die.”
Casey grew up in Springfield, Penn., a Philadelphia suburb. She graduated from Springfield High School in 2006 and was entering her senior year at New York’s Fordham University where she was a communications major.
A friend of Casey’s told Joel that Casey taught her a valuable lesson: that everyone has a story to tell; that people should listen to those stories; and that those stories can change lives.
Says Feldman, “Think how apt is it for me in telling Casey’s stories about how she lived and how she died.”
After his daughter’s death, Feldman created enddd.org (End Distracted Driving).
While he has been an attorney for 33 years and still practices part-time for the Philadelphia law firm Anapol Weiss, Feldman’s passion now is to save lives by promoting safe driving.
Feldman began speaking to groups about the dangers of distracted driving in 2010. He now makes 150 to 180 presentations a year, primarily at high schools and colleges. He has reached an estimated 50,000 teenagers and 15,000 adults. Anapol Weiss supports Feldman’s quest and pays him a salary.
Travelers Insurance, a sponsor of the 2015 Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series, is also helping tell Casey’s story. After learning about Casey and wanting to raise awareness about distracted driving, Travelers reached out to Feldman in April, asking if he were a runner.
“Sure, I run. I’m on my treadmill a mile or two religiously every two or three weeks,” he joked.
Adds Feldman, “They said marathon and thankfully modified it to a half.”
Feldman finished Rock ‘n’ Roll Virginia Beach in 2 hours, 31 minutes. Rock ‘n’ Roll Philadelphia will be his next half.
Travelers is sponsoring Feldman and two elite runners $100 for every mile they run at four races. Travelers’ commitment will potentially total more than $15,000, the donation going to the Casey Feldman Foundation.
“The partnership with Travelers is great because it helps spread awareness to a whole different group of people—runners and people connected to running,” Feldman says of mydrivecomesfrom.com. “Beyond the financial contribution, they gave me an incentive at age 60 to get in really good shape.”
Feldman has spoken about the dangers of distracted driving in 40 states.
“Seventy to 80 percent of the students say their parents drive distracted,” says Feldman. “We’re abdicating responsibility to our kids. It’s a sad commentary.”
One message he tells parents: “Be the driver you want your teen to be.”
One message he tells students: “You don’t have to drive like your mom and dad.”
The driver who killed Casey wasn’t a 16-year-old texting a friend to meet at the mall. According to New Jersey police, it was a 58-year-old man, driving a van, reaching across the console, trying to place his ice tea in a cup holder.
Anthony Lomonaco pleaded guilty to careless driving and was fined $200, plus $33 in court costs.
Feldman did not wish for Lomonaco to be further punished.
“This was inadvertent,” Feldman told The Press of Atlantic City after Lomonaco pled guilty. “This was someone being distracted. You can’t drive 10 minutes and look (and not see) all the people distracted. It doesn’t make it right, but it makes you stop and wonder.”
In Feldman’s mind, Casey will never age. She will always be 21 years old, set to intern at a New York TV station, her professional future in TV journalism. The tombstone on Casey’s grave recites an H.L. Mencken quote: “I know of no human being who has a better time in life than an eager young reporter.”
“She loved people and she loved to ask questions,” says Feldman. “She was inquisitive about everything. She had incredible confidence. She was really a very, very brave young woman.”
Casey scored a perfect 800 on the verbal portion of the S.A.T. She acted in school plays, competed in equestrian events, volunteered at homeless shelters, soup kitchens and animal shelters. She would pester her father to phone his mother.
“Dad, have you contacted grandmother?” Casey would ask.
“No,” Feldman often replied.
“You call your mother,” daughter said to dad.
When people ask Feldman if he has children, he replies. “I have two children. One is still alive.”
If they inquire, Feldman tells them about Casey.
Having given hundreds of talks, reaching thousands of people, surely Joel Feldman has saved at least one life, probably more, convincing people to put down their cell phones, keep two hands on the steering wheel, their eyes on the road.