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Philip Lutzenkirchen's legacy lives on as foundation embraces new mission

Philip Lutzenkirchen catches a pass during his time at Auburn University (abc3340.com)

June 29, 2014 is still very clear in Mike Lutzenkirchen's mind. It was a beautiful, sunny day in Marietta, Georgia. He and his family returned home from church, where they were greeted by a note on their front door. When they called the number left on the note, the Troup County Coroner's Office was on the other end.

In that moment, their world turned upside down. Mike's son Philip had died in a car crash.

"You lose a child at age 23; he just had his birthday June 1," Lutzenkirchen said. "It certainly redirects everything you're doing in life."

That ultimately created the Lutzie 43 Foundation, which is dedicated to spreading Philip's life and legacy - and making sure that no family experiences the pain they have. In the four years of the foundation, Mike Lutzenkirchen has talked to more than 100,000 high school students, given over 300 talks, and provided thousands of dollars in scholarships.

Mike Lutzenkirchen said that the phrase, "time heals all wounds," rings true for his family. He used to tell people that he had a broken heart. Now, he says his heart is solid, but says there are still days of sadness.

"He is with us everyday, just not physically," Lutzenkirchen said. "You can not hug him, high-five him, wrestle with him. You do not get see the kind of uncle he would be or who he would be dating now, how he is going to be around our first expected granddaughter that is going to come in October for one of the girls. That is the hard part. As a family, we refuse to not live with joy. That is what we choose to do. That does not mean there are not hard moments each and every day. Something could trigger you to have tears in your eyes - a photo you look at, the color of the sky - but Philip's presence is with us every single day."

Mike Lutzenkirchen said the foundation's outreach has been tremendous, but the organization is undergoing change. In an effort to combat distracted driving, the foundation is rolling out a new program called "43 Key Seconds."

"There is absolutely no national symbol for distracted driving," Lutzenkirchen said. "Most people think it is a phone, encased in a circle with a slash through it, but a phone is only one element of distracted driving. The term epidemic, the term crisis has put around distracted driving, We think it is also included impaired driving. We believe if we do this right, Philip's life and story will have a chance to be a nationally recognized through this 43 key seconds. Then, we have an opportunity to impact millions of people."

Lutzenkirchen said they are in the early stages of this program. They are connected to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, several governors highway safety associations, and college football coaches who will help with public service announcements. He said the goal is for the key to go around every rear-view mirror, keychain or lanyard, with the possibility of being usable or just decorative.

"I think Philip would be embarrassed that his name is being referenced and being put out there as somebody who has made a difference. I think he would be proud of what we are doing, and knowing Philip, he would say 'keep doing it.'"

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