Forever 16

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- What did you do on your 16th birthday? Did you go out with friends, have dinner with just family, or did you keep to yourself and enjoy the day? What about afterwards? What are you doing with your life now? My cousin will never get to look back on the day/night of her 16th birthday. That was the night her life ended and memories began.

I look back on that night and there are still details I cannot recall. Maybe it's because I forced to shut them out, then again, maybe it was from the amnesia I received due to the impact of my head hitting the passenger seat window.

On the night of July 24, 2003, we were headed back from my cousin's 16th birthday party. In the driver's seat was my cousin, I was in the passenger seat and behind me was our mutual friend and my cousin's best friend.

A red light caused us to stop about two blocks from our friend's house. We were talking away, laughing about all that took place at the party and as the light turned green, my cousin started forward.

What happened next I know mainly from the police recounts of the accident and from pictures that were shown to me after I woke up two days later.

We never made it to our friend's house. A drunk driver, driving at approximately 70 miles per hour on a 45 miles per hour road, ran his light and hit the driver's side of my cousin's brand new SUV.

The impact snapped my cousin's seat belt and threw her out of the vehicle as the vehicle rolled; the SUV crushed her. She died on scene. I had hit my head on the passenger window causing it to shatter. Our friend's legs were crushed and from the impact of her neck snapping, she fractured her neck.

Our friend is now a quadriplegic. She will need assistance for the rest of her life. She's lucky to be alive. I received a severe concussion, bruised/fractured ribs, and landed in a coma. When I woke up, I had no idea where I was, who was around me, and what had happened. My family was sitting around my bed when I woke up. After getting things clarified as to why I was in the hospital and why I hurt so much, my mom showed me the pictures of the accident. My heart broke into a million pieces.

The drunk driver was found about six blocks away. He just got out of his truck and left. They charged him with vehicular manslaughter, and attempted vehicular manslaughter. He also got DUI charges against him and he is now serving life in prison with no chance of parole.

My cousin was an outstanding person. She was loving, caring, happy-go-lucky, and had an amazing sense of humor. She was extremely smart. She had jumped ahead a grade and was graduating early. She had high aspirations and dreams, which my cousin will never get to fulfill in her life. She had a big future ahead of her. Now all that remains is the fond memories and the pictures prior to the accident.

I got lucky, very lucky. I am still alive and well and fulfilling all my dreams and moving forward with my life. I feel blessed to have been given this second chance at life. What I do know is that she is sitting up above watching below and always smiling. It just breaks my heart every time I think back to that day. I know that my cousin will now forever be 16 because someone chose to drink and drive, ending her life and causing several others unnecessary pain and suffering.

Think before you get behind that wheel. You may have gotten lucky once, but what makes you think you'll get lucky twice? All it takes is that one drink and that one time. Whether you kill yourself or hurt/kill another person, you are risking everything you have ever thought about, dreamt about, and cared about.

Don't be the reason someone else will be forever 16.