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Tied by tragedy
It is a dreaded nightmare nobody is ever prepared to face in reality- the sudden tragic death of a loved one in an automobile accident.
Two local women who have lived through the nightmare were among the speakers at a special seminar held this past Saturday at Clipper Magazine Stadium which focused on teen driving safety. Jacy Good and Melannie Bryson now focus on educating, especially young drivers, on developing better, safer driving habits.
It was supposed to be one of the memorable milestones of her life, the day she graduated from college. But for Good, it was a day marred by tragedy. Less than an hour from home after commencement a young driver who was using his hands-free device was deep into a cell phone conversation when he ran through a red light, setting off a chain reaction accident. A tractor trailer truck carrying 30 tons of metal was coming in the opposite direction as the Goods swerved to miss the young man’s minivan, crashing head-on into the their station wagon. Her parents, Jay and his wife, popular Ephrata Middle School teacher Jean Good were pronounced dead at the scene. Jacy was severely injured.
When all of his texts and calls to Jacy over the next six hours went unanswered, her future husband Steve Johnson began to get frantic. Finally, that evening, he got the call from a chaplain at the Reading Hospital with the tragic news. Hearing the news, Steve feared the worst.
Steve spoke to the seminar via pre-taped video.
“After eight and a half hours of surgery, the neurosurgeon told us she had only 10% chance of living through the night,” said Johnson. “When I first got to see her, I would never have recognized her. Her head was swollen to about twice the size it normally was.”
The path to recovery since that day in May, 2008 has been mostly upward. Even today, she has very limited use of her left arm, no use of her left hand and must use a brace on one of her legs.
Retelling her story, Jacy recalled how the first period of her recovery was a struggle first to remain alive, then to begin the process of relearning everything including the alphabet, counting, how to talk, read, brush her teeth and get dressed.
But her physical recovery became an emotional recovery upon learning that both of her parents had died in the crash.
“What could have gone so terribly wrong in my life,” posited Jacy. “When I moved home to my parents house after four months, that is when I began asking questions. I had to rely a lot on the news to get to the truth.”
As she began to reclaim her life, Jacy began to realize the aftermath of the crash had become her life. Since then, she and her husband have created a website, hangupandrive.com, which educates people on the dangers of cell phone use behind the wheel. It also includes an online pledge to turn off or silence cell phones while driving.
Jacy’s story and her efforts to make a difference have gotten the attention of many high-profile personalities, including New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and Oprah Winfrey. She has also been asked to speak to legislators in Harrisburg, helping to create Pennsylvania’s laws regarding cell phone use while driving.
In fact, the seminar shared some very sobering facts: that texting and driving can increase your risk of a crashing by 23 times, that eight percent of all crashes involve driver inattention within three seconds of the crash and that 49 percent of teens say texting is the biggest distraction.
For Melannie Bryson, Sunday, Jan. 16, 2011 seemed like any other day until she got the terrible phone call that her 15 year old son Nicolas was among four members of his high school football team killed. The teens had been trying to drive fast enough to make their car go airborne as it crested a South Londonderry Township hill. After doing this several times, their car slid into the path of an oncoming car.
Bryson spoke of the terror the moment she got the call and learned there had been fatalities. She said she dropped to the floor and began begging God for help.
“They were good kids,” Bryson said. “They had good grades. They were athletes. Yet, one decision made wrong cost their lives.”
All four teens in the car were wearing their seatbelts. Yet, that was not enough to counter the impact of hitting another car at 78 miles per hour.
Bryson said that while she tries to keep Nick alive through her daily memories and work at the foundation she has since founded, she lives the constant pain of his loss.
“There is no normal,” said Bryson.
Since that terrible day, Bryson has founded The Mourning Light Foundation which reaches out to parents who have lost children. She, too, has a website which aims at healing, mourninglightfoundation.org. That site provides specific information on educating teens on safe driving practices.
“Car crashes are the #1 killer of teens, taking 3,000 young lives every year,” stated Bryson. “That’s up to eight teen deaths a day that can be prevented.”
Dale Amspacher also spoke. A 22-year veteran of the Pequea Valley School District, Amspacher is a driver education teacher. He is also the chief driving instructor for Safeway Driving School in Lancaster where he as logged over 100,000 miles with students.
Amspacher shared his 10 habits which can improve safe driving. Those include: 1. Eliminate distractions. 2. Scan the road and follow at safe distances. 3. Make three looks before changing lanes. 4. Know where and how long to stop. 5. Know your right of way. 6. Ask yourself, “Can I safely stop?” not “Can I make it?” at intersections with lights. 7. Look left, center, right before proceeding after the light changes. The first two seconds are the most dangerous. 8. Stay in your lane when turning from double lanes to double lanes 9. Wear your seatbelt all the time. 10. Go the speed limit.
Amspacher himself is no stranger to car-related tragedy. His own mother was involved in a near fatal automobile accident 23 years ago.
“My mom’s car had hit a slick spot, done a 180 degree spin across the road, and slammed into a telephone pole,” remembered Amspacher. “They had to use the jaws of life and cut off her seat belt. At the hospital, the prognosis was not good. She had fractured ribs, head trauma, and three of the five connectors between her spinal cord and brain had snapped. The doctors said that if she lived, she would be a vegetable.”
After six weeks in a coma, Amspacher’s mother regained consciousness but has never been the same since.
“I went with her to therapy for the next year as she learned how to dress herself, feed herself, and walk and talk again,” said Amspacher. “She currently lives in Zerbe Sisters Nursing Center in Narvon. She has never been able to live independently since the accident because she still suffers from dizziness, must wear a leg brace, and has to use a walker to get around. She basically has the mind of a 13 year old.”
Saturday’s event was the second such event held by the BCF Group Insurance Company. BCF Group is a locally owned independent insurance agency offering insurance and risk management for individuals, families and businesses.
As Brad Forney, president of BCF stated, “If we save even one life then we have served our purpose.”
The event was held at no-cost to the hundred teens and parents in attendance.
Gary P. Klinger is a freelance reporter for the Record Express. He welcomes your feedback via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter at @gpklinger.