Staff writer and photographer
Eminence Middle and High School students got to see first hand on Thursday afternoon what can happen when poor decisions are made.
In honor of Red Ribbon Week, Eminence Independent Schools invited three individuals to speak about the consequences of reckless or drunk driving. Zachary Hornback, 18, Sydney Alvey, 18 and Becky Johnson, 23 have all suffered brain damage as a result of head trauma from car accidents. All three of them were introduced by their respective mothers prior to telling their stories.
Eileen Hornback began her presentation with a letter written from her son Zachary.
In the letter, Zachary, then 15, asked his parents to extend his 11p.m. curfew. All of his other friends were allowed to stay out later than he could and when Zack had to be home before everyone else, he felt like a burden. In spite of his letter Eileen would not oblige and as result Zachary took matters into his own hands. Early, on July 8, 2005 Zachary got in a car with an 18 year old friend who had been drinking and consequently was involved in a wreck which left him severely impaired. He was forced to relearn how to breath on his own, swallow, dress and feed himself among many other fundamental functions.
"Zack was not in control after that night," Hornback said to the audience who listened intently through the entire presentation. "He could have been a posterboy for "this will never happen to me." He was an A student in honors English. Now he struggles just to read."
Hornback then introduced her son to the crowd.
Composed and confident, Zachary spoke about his struggles--how retrograde amnesia makes school very difficult, how he had to miss his junior year of high school, and how his perspective changed since the accident.
"I love the sky, the stars and watching the sunrise," he said. "I love going to church."
Zachary implored the crowd to listen to their parents, buckle up and "stay the course."
Sydney Alvey, and her mother Lorrie spoke after Zachary and Eileen. An Eminence High School graduate, Sydney was left with significant brain damage after her car hydroplaned and hit a tree on Christmas day in 2006. Like Zachary, Sydney was forced to undergo arduous sessions of physical therapy and relearn body functions that most people take for granted. Lorrie's presentation touched on the anatomy of a brain injury.
"When someone is a victim of head trauma, they never know how the brain will recover," she said. "The brain can heal but it heals at a very slow rate."
While Sydney's brain did heal significantly and she is now able to walk and talk, she was left severely impaired. Her motor skills, her ability to speak and process information have all slowed. Lorrie made it clear that her daughter is by no means "mentally retarded."
"She has not lost intelligence," Lorrie said. "She is very witty and can still form friendships. She now works things out a bit differently."
Lorrie then introduced her daughter to the audience. It was her first time speaking in public.
Sydney spoke of her personal struggles and how difficult it now is for her to express her emotions. She credited the support of friends with helping her undergo these ordeals.
"I have learned how important good friends are," she said. "Don't take those you love for granted and be respectful of people who are different from you."
Her positive perspective has made a magnificent difference in Sydney's long recovery.
"The key word is 'live.' I'm celebrating every day."
The final speaker of the day was 23 year old Becky Johnson from Oldham county. Johnson, after having just "one or two" beers, was in a car accident on July 5, 2006. With a blood alcohol level of .16, double the legal limit, she lost control of her car and hit a railroad crossing. Her two close friends-- Justin Cantrell and Ben McIntosh who were riding with her were both killed in the accident. As a result, Becky was indicted and charged with two counts of murder, driving under the influence as well as speeding and reckless driving.
Johnson received five years probation and numerous fines. She lost her license and is not allowed to leave Oldham County without her probation officer's permission. There are other stipulations, as well.
"If I want to go to a nice restaurant in Louisville I can't sit too close to the bar. If I do, it's a violation and I will go to jail for two years," she said.
Along with her legal consequences and mental anguish, Johnson too must deal with brain damage. She now has permanent double vision, trouble speaking and has difficulty distinguishing between what is appropriate or inappropriate to say in social situations.
"A normal person would have a filter. I don't," she said.
In spite of her ordeal Becky somehow maintains a glass half full outlook.
"After the crash I kept asking myself 'why was my life spared?'"
Becky spoke for all three of the kids that day with her answer - "To make a difference."
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