Texting billboards surprise teen's family

Christopher Dornblaser
John Trone, a Spring Grove resident and owner of Trone Outdoor Advertising is shown with one of four billboards on display in the area that he donated to urge people to stop using their phones while driving, in Hanover, Pa. on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016. (Dawn J. Sagert - The York Dispatch)

Dorothy Stambaugh can't bear to look at the new billboard near the Lion's Club building in Spring Grove.

But she appreciates it.

The sign is one of four in the area urging people to stop using their phones while driving, and they were installed in memory of her granddaughter, Ashlyn Stambaugh. The 17-year-old Spring Grove Area High School junior died last March in a car crash shortly after sending a text to one of her friends.

The billboards also encourage people to download one of four apps that will block any texts intended for the driver and send automated responses letting the others know that the person is behind the wheel. The message is part of "Here... But Driving," an awareness initiative started by Ashlyn's family.

Ashlyn Stambaugh

The advertising space was provided by John Trone, a Spring Grove resident and owner of Trone Outdoor Advertising. Trone, a friend of Ashlyn's family, surprised them by having the billboards put up in the past few weeks.

A surprise: While the family had spoken with Trone about the idea of putting up billboards promoting the cause, they did not know exactly when it would happen.

"It was a total surprise," said Lisa Dennis, Ashlyn's aunt.

Dennis, a Spring Grove resident, said when she first saw the billboard, she turned the car around.

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“I turned around, parked my car, took the picture, and sent it to my brother — her dad — and my family,” she said.

Dorothy Stambaugh said her whole family has seen one of the billboards, but she hasn't — it's just too hard for her to look at it. The York New Salem resident said the family had intended to pay for the signs, but Trone donated the space for the cause.

"We just wanted some way of saying thank you to Mr. Trone," she said.

Happy to help: Trone, a longtime friend of Ashlyn's father, Scott Stambaugh, was happy to help the family out.

“I thought this was the best way I could contribute,” he said.

He said there are four billboards in York County and one in Perry County, where Ashlyn's mother lives.

“We're trying to be close to the Spring Grove School District because that’s where she attended school,” he said.

Trone said he would like to keep the billboards up at least through the summer, when teens are out driving more. He said the billboards will be rotated throughout the county.

“If we have a customer that’s renting that spot, we’ll just rotate them to another spot,” he said.

Trone said texting and driving might be as bad, if not worse, than drunk driving, and it affects not only the younger generation but the older generation.

“We’re just trying to make the best out of a bad situation, sort of our way of helping out,” he said.

Spreading the word: Dorothy Stambaugh said Ashlyn's father has spoken out about texting and driving at various schools, and the billboards are helping to spread the word.

“I think this is going to reach so many more people,” she said.

Dennis said when the billboards came up, she started receiving inquiries.

“A lot of people had asked me ‘What’s the app?’” she said. (Information on the apps is available at www.facebook.com/herebutdriving/)

Ashlyn's cousin, Kaci Dennis, who is a year older, said the billboards have been helping get the message out.

"I think it's a good thing, it helps in getting the word out," she said. "It's kind of like a way of remembering her, but as you're driving it's a good reminder to just put your phone down."

— Reach Christopher Dornblaser at cdornblaser@yorkdispatch.com