HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Birthed from tragedy, #OneEarOut aims to save lives.
“We just ask people to have one ear out when they are out and about and then tune into life and that might save your life,” said Mark Neitro, founder of #OneEarOut.
The non-profit organization was created in 2016 after Neitro lost his daughter, Amanda Kirchner, in a train crash on Aug. 13, 2016 in Westminster, Colorado. While headed to work, the 20-year-old wore noise-cancelling headphones as she strolled on the tracks at the time of the incident. Due to the headphones, Kirchner never heard the horns from the train attempting to warn her of its arrival and impending danger.
“Months after that, after all the grieving and stuff, I decided I wanted to do something to help raise awareness for distracted headphone use,” said Neitro of #OneEarOut. “Also, we kind of help families and reach out to families that have lost others just to kind of bring families together when they’ve gone through something like that.”
With a Twitter account of nearly 20, 000 followers, the CBS Denver photographer utilizes social media to spread the meaningful message he wants everyone to hear --- #OneEarOut.
“We’re not just reaching out to spread the message about trains though,” Neitro said. “It’s about people that are walking or people that are biking, running. You see it anywhere you go these days and it’s kind of a technology addiction almost that people have that they just can’t seem to not be distracted.”
“I think education is a big part for us to educate our kids and adults about being safe around trains and also tuning into life around them,” Neitro said.
According to Neitro, over 50 people have died from distracted headphone use related to trains. Operation LifeSaver, Inc. reported 274 fatalities, 2,105 collisions and 807 injuries at highway-rail grade crossings in 2017.
“It blew me away to find out there are so many people that have died the same way,” he said. “I think we’re up to 55 now that have been killed across the world by trains and headphones.”
Similar to Amanda, a 16-year-old boy wearing headphones on his way to work was struck and killed by an Amtrak train on Dec. 5 in Hattiesburg.
In a statement to WDAM-TV, the victim’s family said:
“… He was full of life and always had a smile on his face. He was so excited about his first job and refused to be late. So, he was walking to work with his headphones…”
City officials say the area in which the teenager was traveling usually sees a lot of people come through it.
“It’s a lot of foot traffic through here whether people are homeless or not,” said Kim Townsend, City of Hattiesburg homeless coordinator.
Townsend continues to give voice to and explain the dangers of walking in the area of railroads despite signs warning people not to.
“We try to give that information to people… anything about being on the streets or any kind of dangers to them--- we try to share that information with them,” she said.
But, after the tragic death of the teen, Townsend contends the city may consider other alternatives like walking trails to keep pedestrians off the tracks.
“I think that’s just something we’re going to have to consider since this happened," Townsend said.
Neitro says no matter whether one is walking, biking, or running, he hopes the message of staying tuned into life around them is never forgotten.
“Don’t take photos on the tracks or selfies on the tracks and don’t walk with headphones on and just pay attention to what’s around you,” he said.