May 6, 2005 was a warm spring day in northeastern Indiana. Our 20-year-old son Chris had arrived home from college the night before, ready to enjoy a 3-day weekend at home. Prior to leaving for work that morning, I placed a note on his bathroom mirror inviting Chris and his girlfriend to join us for dinner that evening. My wife, Chris and I met his girlfriend at a nearby restaurant that evening and enjoyed the time with Chris and his girlfriend. As we finished our meal, Chris got a call from one of his college buddies (Sean) saying Sean and two other young men were coming to spend the weekend with Chris at our home. We finished our meal and told Chris we would see him back home later that night.
Chris met up with his college buddies and they drove to a campfire gathering attended by several of Chris’ friends from high school days. Like so many gatherings of college age kids, alcoholic beverages were consumed over a period of 3-4 hours. When the gathering ended, Chris, Sean and 3 other young men got into Sean’s high-performance GTO for the short drive back to our home. All 5 young men had been drinking and one of the back seat passengers yelled to Sean “Let’s see what this GTO will do”! Sean accelerated the GTO to a speedmore than 100 mph and lost control of the car. The car slammed into a large tree, crushing the entire passenger side of the car. Chris was sitting in the front passenger seat and his body took the brunt of the impact. Chris was trapped in the car, the femoral artery on his right leg was severed by the impact with the tree. The other 4 passengers were able to get out of the car and one of them called our home about 2:00 AM. The voice asked if I was Chris’ Dad and then said, “You need to come quickly. Chris has been hurt really bad!”
My wife and I hurriedly drove to the scene of the crash where a large assortment of emergency vehicles was parked with blue and red lights flashing. We parked our car near the crash scene…we ran past a police officer that was directing traffic and I screamed “Our son is in that car”. As we got closer to the mangled car resting upside down, we saw EMT’s huddled over a body lying on the ground…Chris’ blue jeans were soaked with his blood…the medic was inserting a tracheotomy tube in his throat. We were told that a medical helicopter was approaching, and we should drive to the hospital’s trauma center.
As we arrived at the trauma center, we were directed to the ER surgery center where a nurse told us Chris was severely injured. We were told his right leg would need to be amputated to save his life. Unfortunately, Chris had lost so much blood that some of his organs had shut down. A few hours later, we were told there was no brain activity. Chris died at 6:54 PM, May 7, 2005. We later learned that Sean was arrested at the crash site. His BAC was .11 and traces of marijuana were identified from a blood test.
A few weeks later, we met with Sean and his parents. They were very remorseful and asked if they could honor Chris’ memory in some fashion…maybe a scholarship? I thought for a moment and then I replied “What if Sean could produce a PSA… a video describing the events leading up to the crash…and describe what it feels like to be facing multiple years of incarceration. I further explained that we could use the video at school assemblies, drivers ed classes and many other ways….and hopefully, the video might save the lives of others. Sean and his parents readily agreed and a few months later, the video (Titled “Regret”) was completed…just prior to Sean’s conviction, sentencing and incarceration.
With a few copies of the video, I began a campaign to determine who would be interested in utilizing the video. I shared the video with the MADD office in Indianapolis. The MADD Executive Director showed the video at a local high school and afterwards the teacher and students thought it was “powerful”. Could I give MADD a few copies? I met with representatives from the Indiana Governor’s Council for a Drug Free Indiana and soon, 200 copies were ordered for distribution to numerous schools. A Fort Wayne newspaper ran a featured article about the impact the video was having and soon I was getting requests to show the video at school assemblies, town hall meetings, Victim Impact Panels, and many other places. A Master Sergeant with the Indiana State Police began utilizing the video when he spoke at schools. He said it really caught the attention of students. I showed the video at a meeting with the Huntington County Indiana Sheriff’s Department and afterwards a Deputy told me “Watching the video motivates me to make even more DUI arrests”.
For more than 12 years, I personally presented the video more than 160 times. The viewers encouraging feedback after each presentation was what kept me motivated. And now, the video appears to have run its useful course…plus, the Pandemic has prevented most assemblies. I am quite confident that somewhere along the way, a viewer of the video has avoided drinking and driving…. maybe…hopefully, a life or two has been saved. I am grateful to all law enforcement personnel and many others that found the video to be a good educational tool and for what they do to keep impaired drivers off our roadways!