Parents organize run to keep daughter's name alive

In an instant Russell and Kim Hurd went from planning their daughter's wedding to arranging her funeral.

Nearly four years ago, Heather L. Hurd was killed by a tractor-trailer truck driver who was texting while driving and slammed into nine cars on a Florida highway. She was 26, engaged to be married and working at her dream job at Walt Disney World.

The Harford County parents have channeled grief over the loss of their only daughter into activism that has helped spawn legislation against distracted driving. In her memory, they have also created the Heather L. Hurd 5K Walk/Run, an annual fundraiser whose proceeds assist students at Harford Community College, their daughter's alma mater. The third annual run is Nov. 12 at the campus on Thomas Run Road near Bel Air.

"Nothing can change our grief, but maybe through our activism we can spare another family an eternal heartache," Russell Hurd said.

Two months after the accident, the Hurds, still reeling from their sudden loss, were testifying in Annapolis and advocating for a ban on cellphone use and texting while driving.

"We had no facts," said Kim Hurd, 48. "We were just grieving parents."

Russell Hurd, 52, said, "Heather's Law was born that day. The bill did not pass that year, but we became real pests."

It would be two more years of persistently lobbying legislators and doggedly gathering signatures on petitions at every possible venue, but the couple ultimately succeeded. In 2010, the cellphone bill was finally enacted. They have a copy of the legislation framed along with the pen that Gov. Martin O'Malley used to sign it.

They are lobbying for even tougher legislation, even as they work on the annual run. The community college provides the ideal backdrop for that event. Their daughter graduated in the Class of 2001, and their son, Andrew, is a student there. The college has dedicated the lobby of Aberdeen Hall to Heather.

"She loved her experience here," said Kim Hurd.

Proceeds have allowed the couple to endow book scholarships for needy students. The two previous runs raised more than $30,000 and provided funds for costly textbooks to more than 40 students. About 200 participated in 2010, and the Hurds are expecting more this year. The race opens at 7:30 a.m. at Chesapeake Center.

"It is entirely on the campus," Russell Hurd said. "You will get to experience how pretty this college is."

Heather's beloved Yorkie, Sammy, now in the care of her parents, always seems to attract the most sponsors. He will be greeting runners at the finish line. Andrew Hurd will serve as a DJ.

"The grief never goes away, but organizing this event and raising awareness can be therapeutic," Kim Hurd said.

The event offers the couple another opportunity to promote their compelling message, especially to young drivers. Their mantra is "Distracted driving kills. Safe driving starts with you."

Phoning and texting while driving result in some 5,500 fatal accidents annually and 500,000 injuries, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

"You can't write a paragraph and read at the same time," Russell Hurd said. "Our brains are not wired that way.

His wife added, " All you have to do is put down your phone, when you drive."

Both adamantly refuse to use a phone while driving. Russell Hurd, a quality control manager for a food distribution company in Cecil County, said he tells everyone that while driving he is unavailable.

"No call is worth a life," he said. "I know what the results of that call can be."

On Jan.3, 2008, a moment of inattention by a 61-year-old grandfather driving a tractor-trailer near Orlando caused the death of two women and multiple injuries to many others, including Heather's fiance.

Kim Hurd, a sales representative, hopes turning off the phone in the car becomes as much a habit as automatically clicking the seat belt.

The Hurds vow to continue growing the 5K event. The day after the 2011 race, they will be planning next year's run.

"We are in this forever," said Kim Hurd. "We are keeping our daughter's name alive."

"And bringing awareness to this cause and to the dangers of distracted driving," her husband said. "You can sit back and do nothing but grieve. Or, you can do something to save somebody else.

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