"She's not gone... she's just elsewhere."

In shock, just being told her daughter had passed in an accident, Christine Olson turned to her son and said “I have to get gas on the way home.”

In shock, just being told her daughter had passed in an accident, Christine Olson turned to her son and said “I have to get gas on the way home.”

Geneva Gives’ Hero Of The Year Finalist, Christine Olson

Meet the sixth of our Hero Of The Year Finalists, Christine Olson. After learning her daughter was in a serious accident, Christine had to endure six hours of red tape and runaround before finally being told her child was gone.

In shock, just being told her daughter had passed in an accident, Christine Olson turned to her son and said “I have to get gas on the way home.”

Out of extreme misery and grief a message of hope was born, a call to action. TIFF’s Initiative (To Inform Families First), the non-profit Christine started in her daughter’s name, is an emergency contact system that allows first responders to report an accident victim to their chosen next-of-kin immediately, rather than taking hours or even days to track down the family member.

To Inform Families First is officially on every application for a driver’s license in the state of Florida, as well as 8 other states, with more coming soon. Christine’s intention is that every state will add an emergency contact service to their ID system, making contact quicker and easier for law enforcement everywhere.

WATCH: Florida PD discusses the impact of TIFF


Read Christine’s full story below, through the voice of her nominator.

Learn more about the Hero Of The Year Initiative

Hero's Name: Christine Olson

Hero's City of Residence: Bradenton

Hero's State of Residence: Florida

Eligible Categories:: Mother

Please describe what makes this individual a TRUE hero:: She’s not gone… she’s just elsewhere. 

This is the reminder Christine Olson lives with daily that helps her turn her grief into purpose and her tragedy into hope for others. 

She was just spending a quiet evening at home alone. After checking on her grown children and knowing they were with their friends, Christine came home from work to drink a cup of tea while watching a PBS documentary on Pope John Paul. When the show ended around 11pm, she headed to bed. And that’s when her nightmare began. The phone rang at 11:15, and Christine’s initial reaction was to let it go to voicemail. Who calls someone that late at night, anyway? But a mother’s instinct is rarely wrong. She answered to hear her son’s panicked voice: “Mom, she’s been hurt in an accident. Get to Manatee Memorial!” 

Not remembering any details of the car ride to the hospital, let alone that she was still in pajamas, Christine met her son, Derek, at the entrance to the Emergency Room. But a quick check with the hospital’s computers revealed that Tiffiany, Christine’s daughter and Derek’s sister, simply wasn’t there. Since HIPPA laws wouldn’t allow the hospital staff to search elsewhere for her, Christine began to panic. 

And when Christine feels panic rising up, she prays. 

She asked directions to the hospital chapel, but with panic continuing to rise within her, Christine eventually gave up trying to find it and made her way back outside. 

There, Derek explained that he had been called by Tiffiany’s friend, Clyde. Clyde had been on the motorcycle behind Tiffiany and her boyfriend, Dustin, traveling north on U.S. 19 in Palmetto, FL. The three of them were headed to St. Petersburg to meet up with friends. Clyde watched in horror as a car pulling onto U.S. 19 made a left turn, not seeing Derek and Tiffiany. “Please go fast and miss them,” he prayed. He watched the impact helplessly as his friends were thrown from Dustin’s bike and pieces of the bike flew everywhere. That was around 7pm, earlier that evening.


Now, as Derek and Christine stood in the parking lot of the hospital at 1:30am, Christine had no idea where to go next. Who to call? She had a vision of her daughter crying out to her, “Mom, Help me! Help me!” but Christine didn’t know how. 


While trying to make sense of what they knew had happened and make a decision about where to turn next, two Florida Highway Patrol officers approached Christine and Derek. “Sorry, she’s gone,” they said as Derek collapsed on the ground. 


“Where did she go?” Christine asked, not comprehending. 


“We presume the medical examiner’s, but they won’t be open until morning,” one of the officers said matter-of-factly as he pressed a ziploc bag into Christine’s hand. The bag contained a broken earring, a watch, and a toe ring. 

You cannot sum up a person’s entire being in a plastic bag, yet that’s what they do. 

In shock, Christine turned to Derek and simply said, “I have to get gas on the way home.” 

###

Christine describes the next few days as existing in a third world. “I could see people’s lips moving but no sound was coming out,” she recalls. She knows she went through the motions of getting her nails done, buying a dress for the memorial service, gathering mementos from Tiff’s apartment, greeting people who called or brought food. But she doesn’t remember any of it. “God is protecting you from so much in those moments,” she muses. 


Odd snapshots of moments blaze across her memory: A woman at church who told her, “I believe in angels. I believe they’re everywhere.” The smell of lilies and carnations filling her home. A rainbow when she opened her front door. 

On Christmas morning, Christine drove to The Rod & Reel Pier, the restaurant on Anna Maria Island where she’s served for years, which was closed for the holiday. She and Derek were going to meet there to spread Tiffiany’s ashes on the water. She drove by herself. 

“Oh my God… look at all the people!”

That morning, God showed up, in the form of a rainbow. In the form of seabirds flying low overhead. In the form of friends, and food, and music. There was coffee and coffee cake and prayers and music. Derek threw Tiffiany’s ashes into the water in the special marine urn they had purchased for her. At the last note of the song, “I Can Only Imagine”- the one about meeting God face to face- Tiffiany’s urn slipped quietly under the water and out of sight. 

This beautiful girl who loved sledding and swimming with dolphins, who had a compassion for people around her, who made presents rather than buying them, who gave butterfly kisses and smeared lipstick on her mom’s face and kept a smiley face mug on her desk at work… this beautiful girl left our world too soon. But she is not gone. She’s just elsewhere. 

Christine has dedicated her life to preventing other moms from ever experiencing what she went through that hellish night. Out of extreme misery and grief a message of hope was born, a call to action. TIFF’s Initiative, the non-profit Christine started in her daughter’s name, is an emergency contact system that allows first responders to report an accident victim to their chosen next-of-kin immediately, rather than taking hours or even days to track down the family member. To Inform Families First is officially on every application for a driver’s license in the state of Florida, as well as 8 other states, with more coming soon. Christine’s intention is that every state will add an emergency contact service to their ID system, making contact quicker and easier for law enforcement everywhere. There is still much work to do, much ground to cover. But…

Something positive rose up like a phoenix out of the tragedy of that night, and that is some sort of magic, for sure.

Please describe how this individual has impacted the lives and community around them:: One of the most important ways TIFF contributes to our local and state community is by providing a succinct means of communication for law enforcement when tending to an accident. Instead of spending precious hours searching for loved ones at last known addresses, or making contact with local hospitals or former neighbors in hopes of finding a family member for an unconscious victim, Florida Highway Patrol, local sheriff’s departments and other first responders are freed up after making one direct phone call to the listed emergency contact.

Once that call is made, these hard-working individuals can continue their work at the accident scene. As one heroic firefighter pointed out, “My job at an accident scene is to tend to bodies- not search for ID.” Thanks to TIFF, first responders are now able to better do their jobs in an emergency situation, which will save the community countless dollars and hours. Law enforcement, paramedics and firefighters are able to be more hands-on where needed, which keeps the community at large safer on the whole. 


Moreover, TIFF’s initiative gives peace of mind to license/state id holders. When registered through the ECS, in the event of an emergency, their emergency contacts will be notified in a timely manner. As of January 2018, nearly 14,000,000 Florida residents have registered their emergency contact information. TIFF’s Initiative has also collaborated with several local organizations in educating and advocating for change.

On September 1st, 2016, Christine was recognized for her invaluable contribution in the Educational Forum at the Florida Tax Collectors Inc. In 2016, TIFF was a finalist for the Manatee Chamber of Commerce Award as a Non-Profit Organization of the Year, in recognition of its excellence, productivity and overall contribution to the community.

In September 2012, Florida Governor Rick Scott declared October 1 - 7, 2012 as Register Your Emergency Contact Information Week, encouraging all Floridians to register emergency contacts. In 2009, the Ash Institute at Harvard voted the Emergency Contact Information (ECI) program one of the top 50 best government innovations. In 2007, the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles' Emergency Contact Team receives AAMVA Customer Service Excellence Award. Furthermore, TIFF develops partnerships with local universities. Students at the University of Southern Florida, as a semester project, created a marketing plan for TIFF and presented it to the Gulf Coast CEO Forum. Manatee Technical College has embraced the TIFF Initiative by donating time and resources in developing the organization's current website.

These relationships are so important as it teaches our young people to be involved in and to be the future leaders in community causes.

Nominated by: Jennifer Mitchell

James Polinori