When Nancy Denz said bye to her son on April 29, 2017, she had no idea that it would be for the last time. You see, an hour later she was told the heart-shattering news that he had been involved in a car crash. Her son was dead. Understandably, she was lost, confused and left trying to piece together what had happened out there on the road. But when someone handed in Daniel’s cell phone, it helped solve the mystery of his final moments.
For Nancy, that day had no doubt started just like many others. Daniel, you see, was about to make his way into work, so she embraced her son and said her goodbyes as normal. However, as previously mentioned, it wasn’t long before she received an agonizing phone call that turned her whole world upside down. It looked as though her son had lost control of his car on his journey, but it took a while for experts to understand exactly what had happened.
Nancy also visited the location where the crash had taken place. And like the other people who were working on the investigation, the devastated mom was confused and wanted to know what had happened to Daniel. So far, you see, she only had sketchy details that left her wondering how Daniel had lost control of his vehicle when she knew that he was always so careful.
To begin with, police determined that no other vehicles were involved in the accident. And as far as Nancy knew, Daniel was aware of the dangers of distracted driving. The mom assumed, you see, that it was not in her son’s nature to take such chances.
Then, it came to light that a witness had found Daniel’s cell phone on the highway – and it was open. And as it turned out, the device contained the one clue that Nancy needed in order to gain some closure over the tragic crash that killed her son. In fact, it led the mom to learn exactly why the SUV had veered off the road.
But before we learn what was stored on the device, let’s learn more about Nancy’s son. By all appearances, you see, Daniel was a popular young man. Indeed, on a Facebook group founded in his memory, his family and friends wrote, “[Daniel] was an amazing young man who always impacted everyone he met.” And he was particularly loved by his mom, Nancy, younger brother, Matthew, and dad, Paul.
Daniel came into the world on October 28, 1994. And judging by the many photos that have been shared to Nancy’s Facebook page, she shared a particularly close bond with both of her sons. That’s right: there are numerous images that show the three of them on family vacations, spending quality time together at home and just generally goofing around.
Interestingly, Star Wars and Disney feature prominently in Nancy’s photos. She seems to have shared her passion for both of those enterprises with her sons, too. There is, for instance, an entire album of Daniel celebrating his 21st birthday with his friends at Disney World. And it appears that the three of them visited the theme park together months before Daniel’s passing.
Of course, Daniel’s father, Paul, has also shared some special moments with his son. Shortly after Daniel’s accident, he posted a photo of them together that was taken in December 2016 – the last Christmas they would share together. And its caption quoted part of a Bible verse. It said, “This is my son, whom I love. With him, I am well pleased.”
Paul works as a graphic artist and is the proprietor of Paul Denz Designs, which specializes in custom paint schemes. The designer also produces murals for commercial and residential properties. And it’s a talent that he appears to have passed on to his son. Daniel seemingly had a desire to follow in his father’s footsteps, you see.
Yes, when it came to art, Daniel was quite talented, and he wanted to build a career using his creative skills. As for his schooling, he attended Sierra High School in his hometown of Manteca, California. It is a community located northwest of Modesto, in the region between San Francisco and Yosemite National Park. And it’s not far from where Daniel was born in Fremont, which is north of San Jose.
Now, Sierra High School is a Microsoft Showcase School. This means the school’s leader takes a more progressive approach to education, thinking it should be more hands-on, practical and fun. And their methods of teaching are innovative and technologically-led. Perhaps, then, it’s this forward-thinking approach that nurtured Daniel’s creative streak.
After graduating high school, Daniel attended Modesto Junior College. However, by the time of his accident, the budding artist was enrolled at the San Francisco Art Institute, which is among the longest-standing art institutions in America. His dream, you see, was to pursue a career as a professional artist – just like his dad.
It was a dream that now remains tragically unfulfilled. Nevertheless, Daniel’s talent still lives on around his hometown. As it happens, some of his artwork is on display at his old high school as well as at Stella Brockman Elementary School. And one of the budding artist’s murals holds particular significance.
Yes, in July 2017 the Fox 40 news outlet showed one of Daniel’s murals that had been painted on an external wall of his classroom at Stella Brockman Elementary School. He sketched it out in the sixth grade, but his dad added the color. And this isn’t the only piece of Daniel’s artwork that’s dotted around Manteca.
It’s no surprise, then, that Nancy touchingly describes Daniel’s art as his legacy. And although he never got the opportunity to fulfill his life ambitions, his mom remains incredibly proud of him. He seemingly knew what he wanted and was doing what it took to achieve his goals. But this doesn’t make the mom’s heartbreak at losing her son any less difficult to deal with.
As Nancy described to Fox 40, “To see that dream disappear, to plan a funeral when I should have been planning a grad party is devastating. I don’t want other parents to go through it.” Indeed, even though Nancy was able to channel her grief into a positive message – as we’ll see later – that didn’t make her heartache go away.
Nancy then elaborated on how the grief has affected her. She said, “Some days it’s hard. Some days I feel like I can’t even breathe. Every day… probably almost every hour that I’m awake; grief is one of those things that doesn’t take a break. So even if I’m at the movies laughing with my friends, it’s still there. It doesn’t go away.”
And on a Facebook post, the mom added, “He was the most incredible young man and such a blessing to everyone who knew him.” It was a sentiment shared by his friends and family, too. For instance, one well-wisher said, “Daniel was [an] amazing and talented young man who will be missed by many.”
What’s more, the Facebook post in which Nancy informed her friends of Daniel’s passing received a total of 130 comments – and they all passed on messages of condolence. One read, for example, “Daniel was and is a blessing to everyone who knew him. A piece of my heart is missing.” And another well-wisher said, “Daniel impacted every life he crossed without a doubt.”
There was also a particularly heartfelt message that read, “Your son has touched many lives. He was a great young man, and he never strayed from what you taught him. We all, the community and family he has created, think incredibly highly of your son. He is irreplaceable. He will be carried on in all of our lives, he was an encouragement to me in my life, and I was better for knowing him.”
Less than a month after Daniel’s passing, Nancy posted a famous quotation in a Facebook group named “Remembering Daniel.” It’s by Ralph Waldo Emerson, and it goes, “To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children… to leave the world a better place… to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”
It was a quote that Nancy no doubt drew comfort from. You see, even though Daniel had missed out on the opportunity to accomplish his goals in life, his mom seemingly took solace from the impression that he had made on so many people. So what exactly happened on that fateful day in April 2017?
Well, as we already know, Daniel set off for work that Saturday. He had a shift at the Texas Roadhouse restaurant in Union City – the same place where his dad had worked as a service manager to supplement his design business. It shouldn’t have taken the 22-year-old much longer than an hour to get there. But he never made it.
Yes, around an hour after her son set off, Nancy’s phone rang. Daniel had died in a crash that saw his SUV leave the road. And three months after the accident, she visited the exact spot where her son’s car came to rest. It wasn’t an area that she knew well, but nevertheless, it now carried a haunting memory.
Nancy, it seems, knew many of the details surrounding her son’s crash. She told Fox 40, “He was driving in the fast lane of the Altamont.” And this is a highway that cuts through the hilly terrain between Manteca and Union City. The mother then added, “He lost control of the car.”
Nancy continued, “After [Daniel’s SUV] rolled, somehow it went over the embankment.” Then, the vehicle disappeared down the hill and rolled to the bottom of steep terrain. It came to a halt near a ditch full of water. Onlookers had apparently sprung into action, scaling the landscape to help the 22-year-old. But there was nothing they could do.
“We know that when [witnesses] got to the car, [Daniel] was already gone,” Nancy described to Fox 40. “There was some peace that it was instantly. We know he wasn’t trapped in the car suffering or anything like that.” But one question remained: how did it happen?
You see, Daniel’s SUV was the only vehicle that was involved in the accident. And to begin with, investigators couldn’t figure out what had made the 22-year-old to swerve off the road. But then a witness found something that solved the mystery. On the highway was an open cell phone. And it was Daniel’s.
From the cell phone, then, investigators were able to determine that Daniel had been texting while driving. “The reason we know he was texting is that a witness picked up his phone off the freeway,” Nancy explained. “And it was open, and he was in the middle of sending a message.” So, the 22-year-old, it seems, was distracted by his phone.
According to the National Safety Council, texting is the cause of a quarter of all car crashes in the United States. That’s right: the health and safety organization further suggests that texting is six times more likely to be a factor in road traffic accidents than drunk driving. But that’s not all.
In 2009 the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute published a report on texting while driving. And it concluded that engaging in this dangerous habit causes the same lapsed judgment as consuming four beers before getting behind the wheel. It said it makes you 23 times more likely to have an accident, too.
For you see, a driver can only safely take their attention away from the road for a couple of seconds. Sending a text, however, usually takes around five seconds. And that extra three seconds is long enough for an accident to unfold. Yes, that’s all it takes for a disaster to strike, whether the driver is distracted by a cell phone or something else.
In fact, cell phone usage while driving causes a massive 1.6 million road traffic accidents a year, according to the United States Department of Transportation. Of those involved, half a million will sustain injuries, while 6,000 won’t even live to tell the tale. But the message doesn’t seem to be sinking in for everybody, and around 660,000 drivers will still reach for their phones while driving.
According to research, then, nearly three quarters of road users would welcome a ban on any hand-held cell phone use while driving. And a massive 94 percent of drivers are in favor of specifically banning texting while driving. Nancy Denz, however, was determined that her son wouldn’t be reduced to merely a statistic. She wanted something good to come from her son’s untimely passing.
So, less than a month after Daniel’s crash Nancy initiated “The Brightest Futures Can End In A Text” campaign. And she intended to raise awareness of getting sidetracked while driving to those who understand the dangers of texting but do it behind the wheel anyway. Yes, among teenagers, 94 percent know the risks, but around a third still do it.
As Nancy wrote in a welcome post on the Facebook wall of the social media campaign, “This will be the space where we share the mission and message. We will honor Daniel’s life and save others. My vision is to make this real, not just for young adults, but for parents.”
She then went on to explain, “We cannot tell our kids or adult children not to text and drive when we are still doing it ourselves.“The campaign will let everyone who was touched by Daniel’s amazing life see how they can honor him with this important change.” Indeed, if she could save a life, then her son’s death wouldn’t be in vain.
Daniel Denz knew the risks of driving while being distracted, as it’s a topic that he and his mom talked about regularly. In fact, Nancy said she would stress the dangers of texting while being behind the wheel every week. But Daniel took the risk anyway, and he ended up paying the ultimate price.
Nancy stressed to Fox 40, “He didn’t die for nothing. We’re going to save lives.” Through powerful quotes and heartbreaking stories shared on Facebook and Instagram, Nancy aims to end texting and driving for good. She said, “For me, it’s real now. For my son, it’s real now. So if I can make it real for everyone else and save some lives, then I’m honoring my son.”