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Santa Maria Sun / Sports Lead

The following article was posted on August 3rd, 2010, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 11, Issue 21 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 11, Issue 21

A time to remember

A memorial plaque for Eric Okerblom will be placed at the Orcutt Creek bike path

By HENRY HOUSTON


The long, winding road
Telephone Road is a narrow, two-lane road, with a speed limit of 55 mph.
PHOTO BY HENRY HOUSTON
The grainy asphalt of Telephone Road often sits beneath a bare, blue sky, its twists and turns surrounded by farmland and, farther off, rolling hills. It’s a tranquil setting, prized by cyclists—when there aren’t cars and semi-trucks blazing past.

Eric Okerblom’s memorial stands as a reminder to both aspects of the road: its beauty and its danger.

He was killed by a distracted driver on July 25, 2009, while riding his bicycle south on Telephone Road—a county designated bikeway. The Okerbloms believe texting had a hand in the tragedy.

The community and the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors recently came together to install a plaque memorializing Eric at the Orcutt Creek bike path. For Dr. Robert Okerblom, Eric’s father, the undertaking is an example of people coming together to keep the memory of his son alive.

“Inattentive drivers can hit cyclists, children, other cars, or anything,” Dr. Okerblom said.

“A drunk driver, who has a blood alcohol content at .08, has six times the chance of an accident compared to a sober driver. A driver who is texting has 23 times the chance of getting in an accident.”


Even the rocks lament
A memorial lies in the rocks on Telephone Road, where a passing car killed Eric Okerblom, who was riding a bicycle, in 2009.
PHOTO BY HENRY HOUSTON
Dr. Okerblom believes the loss of his son should be seen as a wake-up call to make texting and driving completely outlawed, like drinking and driving.

Eric had just returned from a month-long stay in Nicaragua, where he had been with his girlfriend, attending a Spanish school four hours a day. After his classes, he would sightsee the country for another four hours.

When he returned home, the Tour de France was just wrapping up, and he was enthralled with cycling.

“He just got enthusiastic with the sport,” his father said. “He thought that it was nice to be on a bike: to be in power, to have the wind blow in his face. He was amped.”

Eric had just begun reconditioning a 3-year-old bicycle as well—in order to deter anyone from stealing it when he was attending U.C. Berkeley, where he was studying molecular
biology and had just finished his first year of classes.

Dr. Okerblom and his wife, Eileen, have become proactive in ensuring such a tragedy doesn’t happen to anyone else.

The two have been to Washington, D.C., and the capitol in Sacramento, where they spoke at gatherings.


Join the memories
Eric Okerblom’s memorial service will take place on Aug. 5, a little more than year after his tragic death. His mother and girlfriend will speak, as will Fourth District Supervisor Joni Gray.
The STANDUP Act—that acronym stands for the Safe Teen and Novice Driver Uniform Protection—is currently going through congress, and has bipartisan support. It would require states to pass and enforce Graduated Drivers License laws, creating a three-stage license process.

According to Dr. Okerblom, it’s not a matter of if  the bill will pass, but when.

The doctor is also planning a nationwide solo bike ride in honor of Eric.

“I used to cycle a lot when I was his age,” he said. “I’ll be starting at San Diego, and ride all the way to Florida to raise awareness for texting and driving. It’s going to be very therapeutic for me. On my way, there will be some people who will join alongside me, and I will be hooking up with media on the way.”

In addition to the cross-country bike journey, Dr. Okerblom aims to create a charitable foundation in honor of Eric that will focus on community improvement.

Contact Intern Henry Houston at intern@santamariasun.com.




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