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Drunk driving accident recalled PDF Print E-mail
Written by Holyoke Enterprise   

On Feb. 27, 1993 I was precisely 16 years, 11 months and 4 days old; this marks a date that I will never forget. For reasons that I cannot explain, numbers seem to float around in my head, so I did the math and figured that I would be exactly twice that age on January 31, 2010.

When, and if, this date swings my way, I will have been afforded precisely 6,182 extra opportunities to count myself amongst the living.

I started drafting this letter in August with the intent on submitting it sometime around the start of next year. In light of recent circumstances I will write it now. Let me explain what happened on that cold winter night.

I was the commander at the helm of a 1971 Volkswagen Bug driving down Highway 285 from Conifer with my buddies Ryan, Joel and Mike. We were on our way to see Sniper at a movie theater in Denver and were, most likely, hoping to meet some girls. After rounding a mountain curve at 60 miles per hour it became apparent that neither girls nor the movie were in the cards for us that night. We were struck head-on by a drunk driver.

I don’t remember the headlights, the deafening sound of glass breaking and metal bending or the car spinning round and round, but I do remember waking up. It was dark and cold; Ryan was holding my hand and his bloody face was illuminated by the headlights of cars stopped on the highway. His head was framed by crumpled metal which used to be my driver’s side window.

I looked down to see my legs pinned between the seat and crumpled metal; I couldn’t feel them. Right before I passed out, my fingers fumbled around attempting to determine what the slippery stones were that covered my body.

The next time that I awoke, my fingers were sticky with blood and I discovered hundreds of pieces of glass stuck to my hands and letter jacket. I began to panic and my buddies, paying no attention to their own injuries and broken bones, held me down to stop me from further injuring myself. I passed out again. I spent the next two hours fading in and out of consciousness.

Each time I awoke, the situation was new to me; I was forced to repeatedly experience the nightmare and the panic as if it were my first time encountering it. It took two hours to cut the roof off of the car and decompress all the metal that pinned my body to the seat. I remember repeatedly begging the EMTs not to amputate my legs.

My next memory was waking up in the dark and hearing the thundering sound of what could only be a helicopter. “Am I on a helicopter?” I asked. They replied to the affirmative so I quickly tried to get up and they all held me down. “I just want to look out the windows,” I stated. They told me that I was in a car accident. “Oh,” I replied as I drifted off again.

I spent the next three days in intensive care and was subjected to CAT scans, Doppler tests, echocardiograms and X-rays. Both of my arms were in slings from broken bones and I was urinating blood. I couldn’t ring the call light for the nurse so I would call out that I needed to urinate and a guy would come in and help me to get it done.

I don’t know if I can highlight the worst part of the whole experience, but this had to be one of them. My genuine thanks for your help goes out to you, fella. I am sure that it wasn’t at the top of your list of things to be doing either.

I went home after nearly a week in the hospital and, per doctor’s orders, spent the next six weeks sleeping sitting up. I can’t say I ever got used to that, but once you get tired enough I suppose that you can fall asleep anywhere, in any position.

The woman that hit me was in her 30’s. She didn’t have a license because this occurrence was her sixth drunk driving citation. As if nearly killing my friends and me wasn’t enough, during one of her previous arrests she actually had a toddler in the car with her. She served only one month in prison and had to wear a tracking bracelet for a few months thereafter.

She was also ordered to pay me roughly $3,000, of which I have only received $965. She has never willingly paid me a dime; the funds that I have received were her economic stimulus checks that the court redirected to me.

What good are jail terms if they aren’t served and why have fines if they aren’t paid? The woman that hit me spent 33 percent less time in jail than I had to spend sleeping sitting up and she has only sacrificed a whopping $5 a month to pay me back for the car that I had restored just two months before she demolished it.

My experience has shown me that there is not a judicial disincentive in the arena of drunk driving; I can only hope that my story will help to deter people from making the poor decision in the first place.

My goal is that you, the students here in Holyoke, think about the lives that you could destroy by getting behind the wheel after drinking. I am certain that you have been informed about the dangers of drinking and driving; I hope my story helps to reinforce that.

I know that kids experiment with alcohol either while alone or at parties; don’t do it, it isn’t worth it.

Some of you still will. It is unlikely that you and your friends will have had a plan prior to getting drunk.

After the party is over, it is inevitable that at least one of you will either underestimate your inebriation level and drive, or won’t call a friend for a ride, or feel that you can’t call your parents for help, or be afraid to stay the night fearing that your parents will find out.

First, don’t get yourself into that situation. Second, if you do, don’t ever get behind the wheel; you will never be able to walk away from the nightmare that you created.

Steven McClellan