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“Let’s drive…”

Today, I’m taking a detour from my usual topics, in loving memory of Christan DeWitt and Adrian Morris, whose lives were cut short on August 25th, 2004. I wish I would have written it sooner. As always, thank you for listening.

I remember the first time I drove on my own. I was on my way to marching band practice. Me, my newly-issued driver’s license, and my 1996 Honda Accord were adding a few more miles to the 200+ thousand that displayed on the odometer. I remember the feeling of independence (a few nerves) and a lot of pride. It was just me now! Well, me and the many color guard flags that filled my ski hatch. It was a gorgeous day and an unforgettable moment!

Even at a young age, I was fascinated by cars and driving. I even tried to build my own in elementary school. I wasn’t satisfied with my little, red wagon’s lack of power steering. I wanted a better vehicle to satisfy my drive. So (naturally), I checked out numerous books from our library and tried to assemble my own automobile out of the wood scraps in our garage. I wasn’t sure what to do about wheels, but I had faith in my research skills and father-taught building abilities. I was on a mission (a mission that went nowhere, for many obvious reasons).

Fast forward to my final year in high school: I finally got my first (real) car!

Tragically, however, events of that year permanently changed my love of and excitement for driving. Lives of so many–families, friends, teachers–were forever changed.

It was lunchtime at band camp, and a few of us decided to eat at a restaurant by the mall. The five of us girls—me, three members of our color guard, Christan, Ivy, and Lisa, and a member of our drumline, Adrian—enjoyed a lunch filled with laughs and all-you-can-eat breadsticks. After enjoying a delicious dessert, we started heading back to campus.

We sat at the mall exit, waiting to turn onto one of Traverse City’s busiest streets. Lisa and I were riding in her truck, and Christan and Ivy were in Adrian’s car in front of us.

Just as Adrian made her left turn into traffic, I heard the screeching of tires. Then, a loud crash. Before I could process the sounds, I saw Adrian’s car bashed to the side of the road. And the SUV that put her there. Lisa and I froze.

“Please someone get out. Please someone get out,” we prayed. No one did. We grabbed our phones to call 911, but then realized that the SUV driver and others nearby were already dialing. Lisa put her truck in park, and we ran to the scene.

That day, August 25th, 2004, was Christan (16) and Adrian’s (17) last. Ivy (14) was the only survivor. I will never forget it, and I will always remember those warm and beautiful women and blow them a kiss when passing that spot.

As my dad once said, “cars can be weapons.” Adrian’s car was no match for the SUV, as the driver swerved to pass traffic at 71 MPH (in a 45 zone).

“He came out of nowhere,” I explained from the witness stand, months later. The driver was sentenced to two years in prison for the homicides. Five years later, he was caught speeding again, violating his already restricted license and adding to the “15 traffic misdemeanors and 49 citations” he’d had before he slammed into and killed my friends.

Decades later, I’m still processing all of it. I’m shaking while writing this.

I’m also still processing the Jeep® that came out of nowhere, when I was in college. I was in the center turning lane on a busy Grand Rapids street (a street that’s used as a final exam on driver’s tests). Suddenly, a Jeep Wrangler flipped and landed upside down in front of me. If I had moved even a few feet forward, I may not be here to recount this. I still don’t know how the Jeep made its flight, but I know I’m happy to have survived the flip.

Thanks to therapy and positive experiences on the road, I still enjoy driving. I’m a very defensive driver, but I still love time behind the wheel. I’ve loved trips to and from college, blaring my music on the freeway, belting P!nk’s “Missundaztood” album and Christina Aguilera’s “Back to Basics.” I’ve loved the feeling of one-ness with all of my Hondas: my 1996 Accord, “Providence,” my 2007 Accord, “Yve,” and my current 2015 CR-V, “Harmony.” In spite of terrifying experiences and post-traumatic stress caused by negligent drivers, my childhood passion for the cruise still runs strong.

Thank you for listening. And please drive safely.


To make a donation to the Adrian Morris Scholarship Fund or Christian DeWitt Scholarship Fund, follow the links below.

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