Aftermath of a deadly crash: Driver uses his guilt and grief to teach others
Monday, June 7, 2010
Perhaps for only seconds, he nodded off. Danny McCoy awoke as his car hit a utility pole in Rockville and the teenage girl in his passenger seat vaulted into the windshield. It was sudden, like an explosion, and then slow in its unfolding horror.
The girl, falling back. Her body, injured. His fear that she would die.
How many times he has wished he hadn't been driving drunk -- 19 years old, coming home from a College Park fraternity party at 5:15 a.m.
How many times McCoy has wished that he could trade places with the girl in his car, that he had been the one in peril.
Instead, he was the one who survived the wreckage, responsible for the death of a 17-year-old he hardly knew. Five years into the aftermath, McCoy lives with himself by talking to others about that dark morning, each time hoping for one less crash.
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Every year, about 3,500 American teens die in car crashes, according to federal statistics. They die after graduation parties and school proms and on ordinary weekends -- cheerleaders and honor students and kids who have not yet found themselves, and never will.
But there are other casualties, too: Parents and siblings. Classmates. Grandparents and sports teams and church groups.
McCoy thinks a lot about this wave of devastation -- the number of people who are affected and how deeply -- which became painfully clear to him with the death of his passenger, Alexandra Everhart, a high school senior from the Baltimore suburbs.
"Alex" was an honor student who loved art and photography and spent summers working as a lifeguard. At Perry Hall High School, she read the morning announcements and served in the student senate. The night of Feb. 18, 2005, she was visiting a friend on the University of Maryland campus.
"I think about her family every day of my life," says McCoy, now 24. "I think about her every single day of my life."