“I feel you everywhere I go. I see you smile, I see your face. I hear you laughin' in the rain. I still can't believe you're gone.”
These were the first words Pryor High School students heard when they filed into the auditorium for a Victim’s Impact Panel, Tuesday.
The Kenny Chesney song accompanied a slideshow of pictures of Oklahoma residents killed by drunk driving.
As the slideshow displayed the victims’ names and ‘forever ages’ the song continued, “It ain’t fair you died too young, Like a story that had just begun but death tore all the pages away. God knows how I miss you,”
School Resource Officer Jeremy Cantrell introduced the panel, which is a follow up to last week’s mock wreck.
“When we learned that the number one killer of your age group is drinking and driving, I knew we had to get in schools to talk to you,” said Jessie Scott, Victim Impact Panel Regional Director.
She thanked the students for their attentiveness and asked them to all close their eyes.
“Think about all the people you care about most. Now narrow it down to the one person that you care about the most. Picture their face, picture their smile, think about their laughter. Now picture them screaming and crying after they’ve found out that you killed yourself drinking and driving. Imagine their pain and sadness. Now imagine your life without that person,” said Scott. “Keep that person in mind throughout the rest of the panel today.”
The first speaker was Josie Berry, who lost her older brother Justin in 2011.
She shared a video tribute to Justin, who was five years older than she. In the video, he was skydiving - vibrant and full of life. His closest friends took turns describing Justin as truly good, kind hearted and the best friend a person could ask for.
Berry said her brother was a passionate basketball player and a protective big brother.
“Being younger than him, but so close to him, I was always known as Justin Berry’s little sister. Who am I now?” said Berry.
In December of 2011 he was involved in a collision and was killed instantly.
“I would give anything to have been in that truck with him, to protect him like he always did for me. But he took his last breath alone and afraid,” said Berry.
She describes her last conversation with him, getting the news, making funeral plans and coping with life after his death.
She said about 1,500 people attended his funeral, which was a Miami record at the time.
“I tell you this because I want you to understand that Justin was real, I am real and this can happen to anyone,” she said. “If you could feel this pain for just
15 seconds, you would never get behind the wheel impaired.”
Carol Hicks held up a stuffed bear and a photo as she recounted losing her daughter.
She described her daughter Ashley, the youngest of seven, as happy and beautiful. One morning, she said, she and Ashley said I love you and went their separate ways for the day.
“Later that day, I saw the ambulance turn down the street we live on, so I followed it. Then I saw Ashley’s car on its side in the road,” said Hicks. “She was only half a mile from making it home.”
Her car, Hicks said, was hit by an impaired driver with such force it was rolled onto its side. The driver was under the influence of drugs, prescription and non-prescription.
“I called her dad and sister to come down. He walked by the car from the other direction and looked into her car window. He saw Ashley’s face, which was covered by her beautiful hair. He heard her moaning, because she wasn’t killed instantly,” said Hicks. “That still haunts him.”
Hicks said her daughter died while being life-flighted to Tulsa.
“I see your faces and I see Ashley,” she said. “I just want you to know that your parents and your friends love you more than you could imagine, so make decisions for them. I really hope you hear something today that changes your life.”
“Is this Tiger land or what?” began the third speaker, Doc Livingston. “I’m here today to talk to you about your hopes and dreams.”
Livingston lost his only son in 2008. He described his son as “not perfect but a good kid,” and said he had “talent running out his ears.”
His son was a guitar player, who wrote his own music and opened his own recording studio. He described his son growing up, getting married and having a baby girl.
“I want you to know that your decisions today, change the rest of your life,” said Livingston. “I have no hopes and dreams anymore. I have the things left behind from my son’s hopes and dreams.
“My son was in a wreck, I say wreck because it’s no accident. People make bad choices, like getting behind the wheel impaired. It could have been avoided,” he said. “My son was that drunk driver.”
He described his son’s battle with drinking and drug use.
“My son, the drunk driver. No, I’m not proud of that. He was charged with first degree manslaughter and given 40 years in prison,” said Livingston.
He challenged the students to focus on their hopes and dreams and understand the impact that driving while impaired could have on them.
“All the hell that I’ve been through, just knowin’ no one could take your place. And sometimes I wonder who you’d be today,” the song continued as students were dismissed to return to class.