Forty-three key seconds: Mike Lutzenkirchen speaks to HHS students on dangers of distracted driving

By GRAHAM BROOKS / Staff Writer

HELENA – The day before Helena High School’s prom, students at HHS heard a message that was both sobering and critical as it related to drunken and distracted driving, thanks to a visit from Executive Director of the Lutzie 43 Foundation Mike Lutzenkirchen on Friday, March 15.

While Mike shared keys on how to avoid becoming a statistic of a drunken or distracted driving accident, he also provided students with a literal key that read, “43 key seconds.”

The 43 is symbolic of his late son Philip Lutzenkirchen’s jersey number he wore while playing college football at Auburn University as a tight end, but today, that number represents 43 key seconds.

The Lutzie 43 Foundation was founded in memory of Philip Lutzenkirchen, who lost his life as a passenger in a drunk driving accident on June 29, 2014.

The 43 key seconds initiative aims to provide safe and successful lifelong drivers who will serve as ambassadors for change in their communities.

The 43 key seconds empowers drivers to take 43 key seconds to complete a safe driving checklist that includes having a clear head, clear hands, clear eyes and click it before turning the ignition to drive to a destination.

The Lutzie 43 Foundation aims to encourage and empower young people to be positive ambassadors for safe driving through character development, mentorship and real-world application.

After showing a video depicting some of Philip Lutzenkirchen’s football highlights at Auburn, friends and coaches speaking of his character and more, Mike Lutzenkirchen then addressed the gymnasium full of HHS students.

“I lost my son on June 29, 2014 and the good news is, he hasn’t changed since then, he looks the same,” Mike Lutzenkirchen said. “Someone asked me why I come and do this, and I do it for a lot of reasons. I want to challenge all of you high school kids to know that it’s OK to say no to doing things, that you know you shouldn’t be doing.”

While Philip Lutzenkirchen was revered by Auburn fans and alumni for his play on the field, he was even more popular because of his character he possessed.

The Lutzie 43 Foundation urges those to “live like Lutz, love like Lutz and learn from Lutz and Mike Lutzenkirchen shared a heartwarming story of his son befriending a 10-year-old cancer patient during his time at Auburn.

He visited her on multiple occasions while at Auburn giving her advice and being a friend to her while she endured chemotherapy.

However, while Mike Lutzenkirchen highlighted the love and kindness Philip Lutzenkirchen constantly showed, he also spent the majority of the assembly highlighting a series of bad decisions that ultimately took his life that early morning in June of 2014.

Philip Lutzenkirchen spent that one summer Saturday on a farm in rural Georgia with a group of 12-13 kids where he rode a horse, went mudding and just enjoyed time with friends.

Unfortunately, this time with friends also included heavy drinking, and as the warm summer day turned to night the group of friends continued to drink and ultimately decided to operate a motor vehicle while under the influence.

Philip Lutzenkirchen was sitting behind the driver’s seat in a 2006 Chevrolet Tahoe when him and three others decided to take a trip to a gas station.

It was nearly 2:30 in the morning and the driver was intoxicated when the vehicle blew through a 45 mile per hour zone traveling at 77 miles per hour into a ravine.

The end result was fatal, as Philip Lutzenkirchen was thrown from the vehicle and pronounced dead on arrival. He was not wearing a seat belt.

Although nothing will bring his son back following that terrible accident, Mike Lutzenkirchen still uses the event to bring awareness to students and adults about the dangers of distracted driving, even if it means just saving one life.

“Tomorrow night is such a special night for this community, to go to a prom to have fun, but go with the right intentions to have fun,” Mike Lutzenkirchen said. “Show off your date, have fun with your date and maybe say thank you to the staff that puts it on because they’re volunteering their hours to be there on a Saturday night. But change the narrative, and maybe Helena High School doesn’t have any drinkers or any vapers and that’s my encouragement to you. Here’s the lesson, I don’t care if you’re a ninth grader or a twelfth grader in here, girl or boy, say “roll tide” or “war eagle” if you have a series of poor decisions in a compressed timeframe, there’s simply no discrimination and you could lose your life. That’s what happened to my son.”

Following the assembly, seniors Nate Andrews and Melanie Watson described what stood out to them the most from the message.

“I think what stood out to me is that anything can happen to anyone,” Andrews said. “He just made one bad decision and it ended up costing him his life.”

“I liked the part where he spoke about being good versus great but in that moment, he could’ve been great and it didn’t happen,” Watson said.

Mike Lutzenkirchen shared his email address multiple times encouraging students to reach out to him for any questions or concerns.

His email address is mike@lutzie43.org. For more information on the Lutzie 43 Foundation, visit Lutzie43.org.