Orange is a color that elicits joy, enthusiasm, energy, and creativity—all which perfectly summed up eight-year-old Owen Brezitsk’s personality. It’s no wonder it was his favorite color.
For Mark Brezitski ’85, orange is a way of life—a fitting tribute to his only son who died too young because of a distracted driver. Days after Owen’s death, orange came to represent his life and symbolize a movement for distracted driver awareness.
The basis for Owen’s Foundation and Orange4Owen.org originated while the Brezitski family was still in the funeral home.
“My daughters came up with the idea. They were looking at turning a negative situation into a positive,” Mark said.
Makenna Brezitski, 18, and Kyla Brezitski, 15, were there on March 17, 2012, when their younger brother was hit and killed by a teen driver who was distracted and speeding. So was their mother, Karen Brezitski, Karen’s parents, and several friends.
While Mark was officiating a local basketball game, the sisters were performing in a concert at the former Bishop McDevitt High School on Market Street in Harrisburg. As the concert ended, the family planned to get Shamrock Shakes from a local McDonalds. They approached the busy street, looked for cars, and proceeded through the crosswalk.
Second later, the Brezitskis lives were forever changed.
“(Owen) was the last one,” Mark said. “The driver was going at least 10 mph over the speed limit. …It was a seventeen-year-old driver with a sixteen-year-old passenger, and both were grossly distracted playing with songs on their mobile device.”
Three years later, it still pains the family to talk about that night. But they do it—over an over again—in hopes that they can save another family from experiencing such profound loss.
“We’re asking people to ‘slow down, save a life,’” Mark said.
Owen’s Foundation and Orange4Owen.org promote “pedestrian, driver, traffic, and childhood safety and all aspects of community safety as well as raise awareness of the consequences of distracted driving practices.”
One of the first things the foundation accomplished was installing LED crosswalk signs at the site where Owen died. Since then, the Brezitskis have organized numerous awareness and fundraising events, including a June golf tournament, a Distracted Driver Awareness Challenge, O4O Night with the Harrisburg Senators, and several sponsored sporting events.
One exceptionally poignant annual event, the Launch O’ Love, provides a channel for the community to gather in support of each other’s loss and pain during a moving orange balloon launch on the anniversary of Owen’s death. Last year, nearly 500 people gathered at Holy Name of Jesus in Harrisburg, Owen’s grade school, to remember and honor Owen as well as others in the community who have experienced loss.
Afterward, the crowd heads to McDonalds for Shamrock Shakes, where a portion of the night’s proceeds are donated to Owen’s Foundation.
“St. Patrick’s Day has a new meaning for us,” Mark said. “The Launch O’ Love is an opportunity to celebrate Owen and his heaven day. We gather together in support of each other.”
The family often speaks at local schools about the dangers of distracted driving, especially around prom season. In May, Karen and Mark attended an assembly at Carlisle High School, the day before the school’s prom. Although a high school gymnasium is not always the best venue, Mark said you could hear a pin drop when they spoke.
“People don’t necessarily know our story, but it touches them personally. Everybody has a story. Our son died. If we can impact one person, it’s worth it,” Mark said.
“I’ve really been overly cautious as a driver (since Owen’s death).”
“Usually, after three or four months when someone passes away, people forget about (the family). But so many people continue to help us spiritually and emotionally. People still show they care.”
The Brezitskis stress that it’s about getting from point A to point B safely, slowly, and without distractions. Many students express thanks for that message, and Mark is encouraged by how often he sees Owen’s Foundation bracelets, car magnets, T-shirts, and other products displayed in the community.
No amount of time will ever heal the hole in their family, but Mark said they are blessed with a solid support system and strong faith. That’s allowed the family to recognize their strength and continue living life.
“I’ve lost parents, I’ve lost my sister. It’s never good, but it’s understandable. Losing a healthy boy, it’s not right,” Mark said. “Usually, after three or four months when someone passes away, people forget about (the family). But so many people continue to help us spiritually and emotionally. People still show they care.”
Struggling to hold back tears, Mark fondly recalls his kind, generous, selfless, and mature son. People frequently comment that they don’t understand how the Brezitski family has lived through this. Mark’s response—“That’s exactly what we want. We don’t want anyone else to know what this feels like.”
So how do they do it? Mark said, “We’re orange strong.”