10/23/02 - Lesson Learned

A fraction of a second can change a life forever, for better or tragically worse. It's a lesson one group of Heartland men and women learned the hard way, victims of accidents that didn't prove deadly, but did prove devastating.
Now, they're working to keep others from making the same mistakes. In fact, all the men and women in this group have permanent brain damage caused in accidents. Most of them admit their own choices played a part in their conditions and they want Heartland kids to keep from making those same mistakes.
For most folks their age, it would be a typical, everyday trip. But each person in the group has brain damage caused by mistakes they made early in life. Wednesday, they visited a classroom of eighth graders in Bell City.
Willy Jo Cohen is the youngest in the group, she'll be 31 in a few days. Her life changed nine years ago. "Willy Jo was driving too fast, no seatbelt, and lost control going around a curve," nursing home administrator Glenda Cato says. Cherri Hartel's been in a wheelchair since an accident several years ago. A children's computer is the only way Cherri can communicate.
Mixing drugs, booze and a motorcycle ride, without a helmet, left Tony Knope brain damaged. He was once a model and an avid hunter. "Don't drink and drive," Tony says. Everything changed for Jack Johnson when he was 25 years old. An alcohol fueled joy ride took his dreams away. "My life before the accident mostly revolved around work. I went to work like everyone else," Jack says.
Although it's tough to get kids to believe these things could happen to them, some of the students in the classroom say the message has hit home. Eight grader Amanda Lee says, "I know drinking and driving can hurt people's lives." her classmate, Bobby Wallis says, "I think it will change a lot of kid's lives because they don't want it to happen to them." And that's a message Jack and his friends came to spread. "Just don't think it can't happen to me, that's the worst thing you can do," Jack says.
Sadly, there work will never be done. Kids keep drinking and driving. Here are some statistics. According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 6, 390 young people, between the ages of 15 and 20, died in alcohol related crashes in the year 2000 alone. That's up from numbers the previous year, when 6, 378 children died.