Grief has fueled an adamant drive in Eva Czerniak.
It ignited her efforts to start a support group for parents who have lost children, and Thursday it broke ground to begin expanding, and making safe, a stretch of U.S. 380 in Denton County, where her daughter, Samantha Rogers, and her daughter’s friend, Delaney Mancil, were killed in November 2010.
Czerniak’s relentless efforts, dubbed “a spark” by Bill Hale, Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) area engineer, were instrumental in convincing officials of the need to widen the road.
“We’d been working on it for four years,” Hale said. “What we needed was a spark, and sometimes that spark comes from a letter, a phone call. In this case, it was an email from a citizen.”
At a groundbreaking ceremony in Denton County Thursday morning, TxDOT representatives, Denton County Precinct 4 Commissioner Andy Eads and other Denton County officials praised the work of Czerniak, who called, emailed and wrote to county and state officials demanding safety measures be implemented on the dangerous stretch of road.
She also organized letter-writing parties and circulated petitions that garnered more than 4,000 signatures of support. All of her efforts were redeemed in late May when she received word that $80 million had been secured to fund the widening of U.S. 380 from two lanes to four from the Wise/Denton county line to Interstate 35 in Denton.
“Every now and then, you get a phone call or email that really resonates with you,” said Bill Meadows, TxDOT highway commissioner. “Last year, I received such an email from Eva Czerniak demanding that we implement safety measures on that stretch of the road where she lost her daughter and her daughter’s friend.
“That email was shared, and it was impactful. That letter is causing change. Tragic loss is causing good things to happen.”
Eads agreed: “Eva’s email struck my heart. It was such a moving email. It put a face to the issue …
“I got a hold of all of the decision-makers I could think of and told them, ‘We’ve got to address this. We need to crystallize the issue,’” he continued. “That morning, before I was even at the office, my phone kept ringing with people telling me they were on it.
“You positively channeled your grief in a productive manner that will save lives,” Eads told Czerniak.
But Czerniak is quick to point out that the efforts redeemed were not just hers.
“It wasn’t me,” she said. “This signifies what can happen when an entire community comes together for the love of their children. But most of all I thank God. The day I mailed those petitions, I put it in His hands. He is in control after all. There is proof right there that prayers do get answered.
“We did it,” she added, emphasizing ‘we.’ “Helen Keller once said, ‘Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.’”
That ‘we’ was evidenced by the sea of purple T-shirts bearing Delaney and Sam’s name, family members, friends and neighbors of both girls in attendance at the ceremony.
“This is so exciting,” said Delaney’s mother, Debbie Mancil. “This will save lives.”
Czerniak added that this groundbreaking was also significant of democracy.
“Perseverance and hard work can make our politicians pay attention,” she said. “There is such apathy nowadays with the citizens thinking our government does not listen. When doing the petition signing, you would not believe how many commented, ‘Why bother? They will not listen and just do what they want.’
“That is when we, as citizens, have to take charge, raise our voices, speak up and be heard,” she continued. “We have to let them know they do work for us, not the other way around. We have to hold them accountable to the positions they were entrusted with when elected.”
Work on the 13-mile project is slated for completion by 2014.
“I feel so blessed that we were able to accomplish what we did,” Czerniak said. “This will never bring Samantha or Delaney back or all the others that have lost their lives on this dangerous stretch of road before and since their accident, which saddens me.
“It makes me happy to see the work being done knowing that we have turned a tragedy into something positive,” she continued. “Because of all our hard work, we have started the construction of a much safer road for us all. The lives that will be saved will be the biggest blessing of all.”