Mere days later, as the Lutzenkirchens grappled with their devastation, a new purpose began to take shape.
“We never thought this would happen to one of our kids,” said Mike, 60. “Drinking, speeding, going out after midnight, distracted, no seatbelts. You’d never expect something like this to happen to Philip because he always had a great perspective and he made good decisions. But Philip’s story isn’t unique in that we all make mistakes. There’s only been one who didn’t sin and that was Jesus Christ. I’m not mad at Philip. I just wish so badly he’d shown up at that farm and asked for everyone’s keys and showed the leadership he’d shown his whole life. He didn’t, and now I know God’s plan for the rest of my life. I want to save lives.”
The Lutzie 43 Foundation was founded in the fall of 2014, named in tribute to Philip’s football number at Auburn. The non-profit works to inspire people to make better decisions as drivers and friends.
Their 43 Key Seconds Initiative reminds drivers to take 43 seconds to ensure they have a clear head, clear hands, clear eyes and click it before turning the key. They sell an orange and blue key set brandishing their slogans, designed to be a reminder and safety awareness tool.
Mike, who had a previous career with IBM and helped start-up companies with their sales and business development, now runs the foundation full time. He often travels to Safe Driving Summits, hosted by hospitals, sports teams, corporations, high schools and colleges to be a keynote speaker.
The foundation also awards a $4,300 Prepared for Life Scholarship, given annually to students who have demonstrated outstanding character in the areas of service and leadership. They recently awarded their 94th scholarship and plan to give 15 in 2024.
The Lutzie 43 Foundation is partnered with the Georgia Department of Transportation to promote driver safety and awareness.
“CHAMP and HERO, both GDOT units that assist drivers, hand out our 43 Second Key and checklist every time they stop for non-emergency roadside assistance,” said Mike. “We want drivers to keep that information in their car as a trigger, a reminder to make better decisions while driving.”
According to the GDOT, 1,830 people died on Georgia’s roads in 2022. That number is more than in 2021 and an average of five deaths every day. Seventy-three percent of fatalities in crashes are caused by unsafe driving behaviors, including distractions, impairment or speeding. Sixty percent of victims were not wearing seatbelts or seat belt usage was unknown.
“Any right-minded initiative that does what [the Lutzie 43 Foundation] does to help educate kids and adults on safer driving habits is not only worthwhile, but extremely important,” said Natalie Dale, spokesperson for the GDOT. “Mike and his family have turned an unspeakably personal tragedy into a platform to save lives. I am confident that all who hear Mike speak at a Safe Driving Summit leave with a higher respect for personal responsibility behind the wheel and as a passenger.”
On Nov. 19, the Lutzie 43 Foundation will launch their 43-day, year-end campaign in hopes of raising $100,000, more than they’ve ever raised.
“I’m just a guy who lost his son and now I’m on a crusade to rattle the cages and save lives,” said Mike. “I used to be irritated early on when, after speaking, someone would say, ‘If you save one life today it’s worth it.’ I argued that I wouldn’t be doing it right because my son’s life was worth more than one. I want to save as many lives as I can. But the truth is, we’ll never know how many lives we’ll save. How do you measure a death that didn’t occur? I just pray to make an impact.”
If you would like to support the Lutzie 43 Foundation, visit www.lutzie43.org.