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Friends of Iowa City Girl Who Died in Moped Accident Try to Make Best of Tragedy With Helmet Law

Three West High School seniors-- Caroline Van Voorhis, Leah Murray and Olivia Lofgren-- are pushing for legislation that would require helmets for moped users below the age of 18.

Editor's Note: Caroline Van Voorhis, Leah Murray and Olivia Lofgren are being featured today (Feb. 7) as The Huffington Post's Greatest Person of the Day. The series features stories of people across the nation who are making a difference in their communities. Congratulations.

The friends of former student Caroline Found describe her as being outgoing and gregarious.

Caroline was the sort of person who would go up to a stranger and start a conversation and make them feel welcome, and the sort of person who was young, loving and full of life.

And, if she had been wearing a helmet last August, they say she might still be alive.

Found's death from a head injury following a moped accident last autumn has led three of her former friends to take up the mantle of helmet safety in Iowa.

Olivia Lundgren, 18, Caroline Van Voorhis, 17, and Leah Murray, 17, have helped get a bill introduced to the state senate that would require helmets for motorized bicycle or moped users that are under the age of 18. The trio of girls worked with local State Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, and a local lawyer to draft the language.

They said the effort is part of the grieving process, but also an issue that has become important beyond their own loss. As a group, they are being honored by The Huffington Post as The Greatest Person of the Day.

"We wanted to take a really sad situation and put a positive twist on it, which is why we decided to pursue a helmet law," said Van Voorhis. "We just want to prevent other communities from going through the loss that we've had to go through."

The bill, Senate File 2085, has made its way to a senate transportation subcommittee. Along with Bolkcom, it has been cosponsored by State Senators Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, Bob Dvorsky, D-Coralville, Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque, and Liz Mathis, D-Marion.

The bill has already had some prominent special interest groups sign up to lobby for and against it.

The trio say they have been helped along in their effort by the Brain Injury Association of Iowa. Meanwhile, the bill will be lobbied against by ABATE of Iowa (A Brotherhood Aimed Towards Education) a motorcycle lobbying group that argues that people should be educated to wear helmets instead of being forced to by laws.

Lofgren said it has been interesting jumping into the middle of a contentious statewide debate. She noted that Iowa is one of only three states in the union with no helmet laws at all.

"It's been an amazing experience; it's something no government class can teach you," she said.

Van Voorhis said the group understands why people are against helmet laws for adults, and that's why they wanted the law tailored to apply only to teens on mopeds.

"We're hoping the day they turn 18 they don't just don't take off their helmet, we hope they learn the behavior over that time," she said.

To raise support for the bill, the three friends have started a group called "Hope for a Helmet," and sold keychains for $2 a piece that feature Found's volleyball number and her favorite color -- Carolina blue. They have also started a Facebook page devoted to the cause where interested people can follow along and an e-mail: helmetlaw.iowa@gmail.com where people can voice their support.

Lofgren said the use of these methods has allowed other West High students to chip in their support.

"They all buy keychains and like the Facebook page," Lofgren said.

The group has lobbied legislators by giving talks in the area, featuring a Skype message of support by the Found family. They said they don't think they will be nervous if they eventually have to go to the senate to speak in favor of the bill.

"We've given a lot of presentations," Lofgren said. "We have our lines pretty much figured out."

The three young women say they know that the battle could be tough, and it may take more than one year to get the law passed. Still, even though they may head off to other locations after graduating this year, they have committed to getting the bill made into law.

"Whatever it takes to get it passed," Murray said. "We're in it for the long haul."

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