MANTECA -- Far below the Altamont Pass in Livermore, nestled between the golden hills, sits a narrow, windy frontage road. It’s a spot Nancy Denz of Manteca had never been before. But recently, she went there for the first time, accompanied by FOX40. She was searching for the spot where her life changed forever.
“Some days it’s hard,” Denz told FOX40. “Some days I feel like I can’t even breathe.”
It’s been three months since 22-year-old Daniel Denz, Nancy’s oldest son, hugged his mom goodbye and set off for work. An hour later, Nancy got a call. Daniel had been in an accident.
“He was driving in the fast lane of the Altamont. He lost control of the car. After it rolled, somehow it went over the embankment,” Denz said.
Over the embankment, down the steep slope of a hill, crashing just above a ravine, filled with water. Nancy says, witnesses clambered over bushes and through the ravine to try to save him. But it was too late.
“We know that when they got to the car, he was already gone,” Denz told FOX40. “There was some peace that it was instantly. We know he wasn’t trapped in the car suffering or anything like that.”
At first, it wasn’t clear what caused the accident. But a discovery on the Altamont helped investigators piece it together. Daniel had been texting while driving.
“The reason we know he was texting is that a witness picked up his phone off the freeway. And it was open, and he was in the middle of sending a message,” Denz said.
As she shared her story with FOX40, Nancy’s grief wasn’t always obvious. But inside, her sorrow is constant, and consuming.
“Every day… almost every hour that I’m awake. Grief is one of those things that doesn’t take breaks,” she said. “So even if I’m at the movies, laughing with my girlfriends, it’s still there. It doesn’t go away.”
Daniel’s friends and family remember him as outgoing, imaginative, and a talented artist. He has pieces at Stella Brockman School, and Sierra High School in Manteca. Nancy thinks of these works as part of his legacy. When he died, Daniel was studying at the Art Institute in San Francisco. Nancy says, she couldn’t have been more proud of her son, as he chased his dreams of becoming a professional artist.
"To see that dream disappear, to plan a funeral, when I should have been planning a grad party, it’s devastating,” Denz said. “I don’t want other parents to go through it.”
Now, Nancy is turning her grief into a weapon against distracted driving. She’s started a social media campaign, called “The Brightest Futures Can End in a Text.” Her goal is to warn others that Daniel knew the risks of distracted driving. Nancy says, they had a conversation about the dangers of texting while driving at least once a week. But he still died.
She doesn’t want anyone else’s life to end like his.
“He didn’t die for nothing,” she told FOX40. “We’re going to save lives.”
Now, every day, she’s staying strong. She’s trying to make something beautiful come out of Daniel’s death.
“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,” said Nancy.