As thousands of drivers get ready to hit the road for the Thanksgiving holiday, the tragic death of a young Mesa woman has friends speaking out about seat belt safety.
According to the Department of Public Safety, two people were thrown from a car on Nov. 13 after it crashed on Loop 202 at Arizona Avenue.
Four people were taken to the hospital, and one of the victims suffered life-threatening injuries as a result of the accident, officials said.
They also believe that impairment may have been a factor in the crash.
Since the accident, a passenger, 20-year-old Jessie Bennett, had been in critical condition.
Friends said that Jessie, and another passenger, were in the backseat and not wearing safety belts. Both Jessie and the other passenger were ejected from the car.
"I rushed to the hospital as soon as I could. I got there and she was in a coma," Jasmine Gallegos, Jessie's best friend, said.
She described Jessie as a passionate young woman, full of life, and with a passion for animals and storm chasing. She wanted to be a veterinarian. Friends say she was selfless, and always put others first.
"I just felt guilty that I didn't go with her; maybe I could have been the one to drive," Gallegos said.
Gallegos and Jessie's family believe her life could have been saved, had she worn her seatbelt, as others who survived the crash were all belted up.
"Even if you don't think it's important, it truly is important," Gallegos said. "You never know what can happen. I would still have my best friend but she's not here anymore."
After five days in a coma, her family had to make the gut-wrenching decision to take Jessie off life support.
"She was no longer going to be the same even if she came out of it," Gallegos said. "She wouldn't be able to talk, move, or even know who we are."
Now in Jessie's memory, her friends and family hope to hone in the message of safety that seat belts can save lives.
Jessie's family has been slammed with medical bills since the tragic death of their daughter. In an effort to combat the rising cost of medical expenses, her friends have created a GoFundMe account.
Statistics on the Arizona Department of Public Safety website show seat belt violations are a big problem in Arizona. 35 people have been killed in crashes with seat belt violations so far in 2016.
In 2015, DPS officials issued almost 19,000 seat belt citations and 508 seat belt warnings.