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WCF Voices of Victims: Ashley Bowen

MADD West Central Florida volunteer, Kahlee Arthur, reflects on growing up in the shadow of a DUI loss.

The last time I saw Ashley, I was mad at her. She was visiting my dad and me in Florida and promised to take me to the beach. Like many 17 year olds, she forwent that promise and decided to hang out with her boyfriend before she headed back home. I tried to call her after she left but I had the wrong number — before I could get the right one, the call came.

I was leaving the dentist with my mom on April 27, 2006 when my dad called her to tell her Ashley had been in a crash the night before and was fighting for her life. What was supposed to be a fun “take your daughter to work day” turned in to a nine-year old crying in her mom’s office as her mom scrambled to make flight reservations.

Ashley held on for three days. Three days of using that beige phone on the wall to speak to the staff behind the locked doors of the unit. Three days of sitting in what seemed to me at nine to be a huge waiting room packed with family members, high school students and friends. Three days of every test possible to predict the outcome we all were avoiding.

Was she trying to hold on for us fighting for her life because she knew she didn’t deserve it? Did she know that she was laying in that hospital bed because of the selfish actions of an impaired driver?

Ashely held on for three days and then on April 29th, 2006 I was a nine year old girl without my biggest sister.

For five years I was so upset. Everyone had always told me “No matter how mad or upset you are, always tell your loved ones that you love them because you never know the last time you’ll see them”. This advice haunted me until my high school driver’s education teacher encouraged me to take my story and run.

The first time I shared my story, I was 15 and it was with about 20 of my classmates. I hated public speaking, but I took Mr. Hanson’s advice and I got up there. I was horrified to ask my parents for details to prepare so I decided to take things into my own hands reading every detail of the police report and viewing the crash scene photos. I made it through that presentation with just a quiver in my voice until the end when I shared the guilt I live with every day because of my last encounter with Ashley, but after it was done the Band-Aid was torn off, salt had been poured into the wound and a fire had been lit inside me. At the age of 15, I resolved myself to work to end drunk driving.

Since then, I have led an amazing Live-Free club at my school, volunteered with the Walk Like MADD Pinellas committee for 4 years and last year I became a Peer Mentor and Volunteer Victim Advocate for MADD West Central Florida.

Last week, my father and I came together to remember Ashley 10 years after the crash — we released baloons in her honor. It gave me the opportunity to reflect on how the selfish actions of one person changed my entire family forever. April 26, 2006 was the last day any of us woke up without feeling like a cinderblock was on our chests — but it’s also made us stronger. 10 years later, I have not only grown into an adult, but I have grown with my tragedy of losing Ashley. I still have bad days where I wake up and feel like I smacked a brick wall, or where I despise seeing other girls with their big sisters. I have days where I have to be the strong one for my father because losing a child is something you never get over. I still might burst out crying in a restaurant because my mom just told me a story about how Ashley ate spaghetti with her bare hands — but I have turned my grief, guilt and loss into something beautiful. Being a volunteer with MADD allows me to be part of something bigger. I am truly capable of doing anything I put my mind to and I choose to put my mind to everything for Ashley.