Why We’re Here: Richard “Dylan” Whitaker

Jim Bower adored his grandson, Dylan. Dylan loved spending time with family and friends and he was very popular, but what really meant something to Jim, was that his grandson made such an effort to reach out to kids that weren’t as popular, letting them know they mattered. “He was always for the underdog,” Jim says, “Dylan was loved by everybody. He had no enemies.” Dylan loved life! He enjoyed playing computer games, riding his four wheeler and dirt bikes, horseback riding, and long country drives in his pickup truck.

At 19, he was a senior at Houston County Christian Academy. He and Jim had discussed plans for the future, but nothing had been solidified yet. Dylan was considering college, the Marines, or becoming an Army Ranger. Jim, who is a former active-duty Marine, had taken Dylan to Parris Island (Marine Corps Boot Camp in South Carolina) one summer while on vacation, and had hopes that Dylan would follow in his footsteps. Jim admits he, himself, wasn’t “college material” right out of high school. He wanted adventure. But after four years of enlistment, he had matured enough to pass the college entrance exam on the first try and got his college education. “I could tell Dylan was the same way,” Jim says, “Young people are so vulnerable today that I knew he should be going into something out of school to keep from drifting in the wrong direction.” But more than anything, Jim just wanted Dylan to be happy and to make his own choice of what he wanted to do with his life.

But he never got the chance. An impaired driving crash changed everything.

On January 16, 2012, Jim says, “We got an alert on our phone letting us know something was wrong.” He went to the 911 Dispatch office to see if they could tell him what had happened. He gave them Dylan’s vehicle information, but they had nothing on Dylan. Not five minutes after Jim left their office, they called him to say he needed to go to the hospital and meet a trooper about his grandson.

Jim says when he arrived, two nurses were waiting for him in the emergency room. They waited with him for the trooper he was expecting. “I had no idea what was coming.” After about fifteen minutes, an ambulance arrived with no lights flashing. Jim thought that must be a good sign. (Now every time he sees an ambulance without flashing lights, he knows it might mean the worst thing imaginable.) The ambulance driver came into the emergency room, looked at Jim, and said, “I’m sorry for your loss.”

Jim says, “My life crashed in that instant… Dylan was my life. It’s like being shot through the heart.” Jim says that losing Dylan “destroyed any happiness I could hope to have the rest of my life.” He never believed he would make it through the first year without Dylan. But his faith sustained him. “Jesus is the only reason I’m still here.”

He began speaking for MADD and sharing Dylan’s story in 2015. He says it’s hard, but if he speaks to a room of 50-60 and only one chooses not to drive impaired again, he knows that “if I actually save one person…from losing a loved one, then I am, in effect, saving hundreds (family and friends) from going through what I go through every day.” He wants people to know, “In the blink of an eye, you could lose your most treasured possession.”

Richard Dylan Whitaker