It was a sunny, clear-blue-sky day on June 16, 2018. It also was a day that would forever change the lives of Leah Fullenkamp and her family.
Leah, a Pioneer Electric Cooperative member, was on her couch recovering from foot surgery she had undergone just 24 hours earlier, while her husband, John, a full-time engineer and part-time farmer (to the extent there is such a thing), was busy in the fields trying to get things ready before an upcoming work trip. The couple’s four children were with John’s mother, with plans to meet John in the field with dinner.
John never received that visit or that dinner.
While he was driving his tractor on the roadway, a distracted driver — shopping on her phone and, based on crash reconstruction analysis, distracted for a full 16 seconds — plowed into the tractor and took John’s life.
From that moment, everything changed. John’s death left Leah to raise their children, ranging in age from 8 months old to 9 years, by herself. “I lost my husband, my partner, and the father of my children,” Leah says. “Life got hard — really hard — and it happened instantly.”
I started asking myself, ‘How can I prevent this from happening to someone else?’ I didn’t want my story to be anyone else’s story.”
— Leah Fullenkamp
That autumn, Leah returned to her job teaching school, but it didn’t go well. She worked with special needs students during the day, then came home to four kids who needed her full attention all night. John’s loss weighed heavily on Leah and their children. The following summer, she decided to resign from her teaching position and stay home with her children.
One evening, Leah was driving down a main highway and passed a tractor going the opposite direction. In the very next car, a driver was on her phone and not paying attention. When Leah got home, she sat in her driveway and listened for sirens. She felt helpless.
“I started asking myself, ‘How can I prevent this from happening to someone else?’” Leah says. “I didn’t want my story to be anyone else’s story.”
Not long after that, Leah posted a picture of John and their son on a tractor on her Facebook page, marking the occasion of the first planting season without John. The post was shared over 500 times. “That was when I started to realize the power in our story,” she says.
Leah created a Facebook page, In the Blink of a Fly — named for a housefly that began visiting the Fullenkamps within days after John’s death and quickly became a symbol of strength and encouragement for their family.
“A fly always seemed to show up during conversations when I knew John would have an opinion — during tough decisions and special events,” says Leah. “It wouldn’t visit every day, not even every week, but enough to notice.”
Leah combined her new household visitor with the way her life changed in the blink of an eye to come up with the name of her mission. On her blog, she tells her story and shares her family’s journey and things she’s learned along the way.
Leah expanded her outreach to include local high schools and community groups, where she raises awareness about distracted driving. “It’s not only teenagers who drive distracted, but people of all ages,” says Leah. The woman who hit John was in her mid-50s.
The pandemic has slowed Leah’s presentation opportunities, but she’s finding other ways to promote her message. In 2020, she teamed with Shelby County Farm Bureau’s “Share the Road” campaign to help spread awareness of farm equipment traveling on roadways.
The campaign raised money through local business donations for a portable billboard that sits near where John’s accident occurred, as well as yard signs that serve as a reminder: “Eyes Up. Phone Down. It Can Wait.”
“If you’re driving, it’s important to stay focused. Don’t let something small impact your life, your family’s life, or someone else’s life,” says Leah.
“This is my story, but I’m not special. This could happen to anyone.”