Published: Wednesday, April 2, 2008
By: Barbara Andrews
Barbara Andrews lost her daughter, Kimberly, in an SUV crash with another teen driving on June 12, 2002. Barbara now speaks to high school defensive driving classes in the hopes that this moving story will impress other teens with the need to drive safely and think about consequences of their actions ... and so that Kimberly's tragic death will not have been in vain.
You can also hear Barbara's interview with us by clicking here.
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If you were to pass me in the halls or on the street, you would see that I am smiling; I am laughing; I am going about my day to day commitments and living my life. Things must be going well – no worries, no stress. That’s how it looks to the world outside. But, I feel invisible. Don’t they know, can’t they tell, can anyone see my pain…
I am a bereaved parent – that is the term they use. It doesn’t really represent who I am. I am a wife, a mother of 3, a professional. I am a parent who lost a part of myself almost 5 years ago, when my oldest, my only daughter was killed in a car accident. She was a passenger in an SUV. With the blink of an eye, our lives were turned upside down, inside out – never to be the same. The death of your child, no matter the circumstance, is devastating. Your future is changed forever. It is not the natural order of things.
As a parent, there is guilt and regret. You question your parenting and your sanity. You relive that day, those hours, over & over again. Your mind play tricks on you – if only this or that had occurred, the outcome would be different. No matter what you think, what you wish for, the outcome is the same – your precious child is dead – and you and your family must find a way to go on with your lives without them. So much easier said then done.
Yes, I am smiling, I am laughing and I am going about my day to day commitments and living my life. I have to. My husband and sons need me. I can’t help my Kimberly anymore.
Today, with a heavy heart, I am here to walk you through a few days of my family’s life. Similar to most family’s, but with an outcome I would not wish upon anyone.
My story is about decisions, actions and choices – ones that don’t provide a second chance. The message I want you to take home today is this: Always think about how your choices and decisions will impact you, your family and your friends. Can the consequences be life altering or even life ending? Remember, it CAN happen to you.
Friday, May 10, 2002 – Tonight is prom night. Kimberly is a junior at Pope High School. Even though Kimberly is not interested in going to prom, her friend Brett talks her into it. The afternoon and evening is filled with prom pictures at the house, dinner, prom and a get together at our house afterwards.
Sunday, May 12th – It is Mother’s Day and Kimberly 17th birthday. The day is extra special because Kimberly was born on Mother’s day! Kimberly chooses her favorite Chinese restaurant for dinner instead of her usual birthday dinner at her favorite Italian restaurant. After an early dinner, she meets up with friends.
The next 4 weeks are filled with end of school activities and exams. Kimberly plans on working full time this summer to pay on her car, insurance and save for school. She plans on graduating in December, so she can get a jump on her core classes. She is planning on becoming a teacher and can’t wait to move to the next stage of her life. The only reason she is staying is to be the Head Wrestling Manager her senior year.
Wednesday, June 12th, starts out as a typical summer’s day. Kimberly called me about 10 am that morning to ask if she could spend the night out at her friend Gina’s house. After some discussion, I agreed, only if she stayed home that weekend and spent some time with the family. Tyler had a baseball tournament that started that night and lasted through the weekend. Little did we know that as we sat watching Tyler play baseball, our daughter was dying.
Kimberly worked that day at Kroger. What we didn’t know is that she got off early (around 5 pm) and planned to head to the lake for the evening with friends. She didn’t have our permission. It turns out most of the kids in the caravan were kids we didn’t know – with the exception of about 3 who we had met a couple of times. We found out later that a lot of Kimberly’s friends knew where she was going – they had been invited too but couldn’t go for various reasons. Why did Kimberly lie to us?
There are a lot of things that happened between 5 and 8:41 that we will never know. There are several different versions of the story. Here is what we understand:
- Four cars of kids left for Lake Arrowhead around 6:30 pm, Kimberly’s Honda Civic, a Toyota Forerunner, a red car, and one other. Some of the kids planned on spending the night, others were planning on driving home later in the evening. Most parents did not know where their teenagers were headed.
- Kimberly’s car broke down and the kids “hung out” on 575 for about an hour deciding what to do. An officer stopped and asked them to move along as they were creating a disturbance on the highway.
Several kids went to get oil for Kimberly’s car – which did not help the engine to start.
- Everyone hopped into cars and headed for the lake, leaving Kimberly’s car behind. What was the plan? Kimberly was a control freak, why did she leave her car? I have been told that Kimberly’s “choice” of cars to get into was based on the fact that the red car’s occupants were smoking dope and that she chose the SUV for that reason.
- When Kimberly’s car broke down that evening (the engine locked because it had run out of oil apparently) she only had one thing in mind – I’m going to have fun with my friends. I wonder if she ever thought of calling us. She certainly had plenty of time. Kimberly always kept in touch – and knew we would help her out that night. She also probably knew that she would be in trouble – she was not where she was supposed to be. I am sure that was not the 1st time, unfortunately it was the last time. If only she had called us….
The car accident occurred at 8:41 pm, just a minute or two after she got in the other car. The first officer on the scene was the same officer that had asked them to “move along” a short time before.
Kimberly died instantly. She had multiple skull fractures, a broken nose and broken legs. Where she was sitting in the car took the brunt of the impact. Kimberly had the lap belt of the seat belt on, but when it hit the tree, the impact caused her seat to break so it was as if she had nothing to hold her in. The police don’t believe that having had the shoulder belt on would have helped save her. Why did she have to die?
The driver of the Toyota Forerunner saw something out of the corner of her eye, which caused her to swerve. Because of her lack of experience in driving an SUV, she overcorrected when her car started to go off the road. The car flipped over with the over correction, hit a tree, and then flipped on its side (Kimberly’s side) and hit the second tree. The impact of hitting the 3rd tree stopped the car – 2 dead, 4 injured, and many lives shattered forever. Kimberly was very particular about whom she drove with, yet this time she got in the car with someone she barely knew.
Kimberly’s injuries were so severe they wouldn’t let me see her. I never got to hug or kiss her goodbye. Why did this happen to her – she was so full of life and knew exactly what she wanted out of life? Her two brothers adore her and look up to her. These past 5 years have been very difficult for them, living without their big sister. We are a very close family, and it is very obvious as we set the dinner table for 4 instead of 5. Family pictures will never include my whole family again.
We didn’t get called until 11:50 pm that night, by the driver of the red car – her sister was in the car with Kimberly – that is how she knew about the accident. She also knew that one of the boys in the car was dead. His parents had been notified around 11 pm. Since we had not been notified of her whereabouts, I tried to call Grady Hospital where 2 of the kids had been taken. We found out later that her wallet was in the red car so the police didn’t know who she was. Remember her choice in car? I couldn’t get through, so Jay and I got Josh & Tyler out of bed and jumped in the car. We had to find Kimberly!
We started making phone calls to find her and find out where the accident had occurred as we were driving out of our subdivision. Eventually we were transferred to the Canton Police who recommended we go home. At that time they realized who we were and didn’t want to tell us over the phone. After going home and trying Grady and North Fulton Hospitals again and again, we called the Canton Police back. At that time we were told an officer was on the way to our house. As her brothers cried and prayed for her safety, her dad and I knew – but we still kept up hope for the boys and for ourselves. How can we comprehend the fact that our daughter was dead?
At 1:15 am on 6/13, a Canton policeman (the same officer who stopped on the side of the road and arrived at the scene of the accident) arrived at our home to tell us that our daughter did not suffer and was not coming home. He then began calling family and friends, so we wouldn’t be alone. By 3 am, our house was full of people trying to comprehend this tragedy. Most of it is a blur to me.
There are parts of the whole summer I still can’t fully remember – a sure sign that you are in shock. As Josh said to me one day, Mommy why did this have to happen to our family? That is a question I will never be able to answer.
If only she hadn’t lied, if only she’d called us. If only she didn’t get off work early. The “if onlys” go on for many weeks until you realize you are driving yourself crazy. The “if onlys” won’t bring Kimberly back. We also keep asking “Why”? Why did Kimberly die? Why did she not call? Why did she lie? How many other times did she lie to us? Why did we let her go out that night? Why didn’t her friends keep her from going that day? Answers we will never have. Questions continue to keep us up at night. The choices Kimberly made that day seemed innocent and harmless at the time.
Kimberly was a loving daughter, involved teenager, a great big sister and a hard worker. She had worked at Kroger since she was 15, did parties at Sports-a-rama, bought her own car, and paid her own insurance.
We loved Kimberly with all of our hearts. Kimberly was a good kid who cared about others and had a purpose in life. She offered so much to so many people in her short life. This became obvious to us as the nearly a thousand people came to pay their last respects at her funeral and with the hundreds of cards and letters we received. This was quite overwhelming to us, but brought us great comfort. A friend created a web site in her memory that people still write messages on. Two scholarships have been established in her memory (one for wrestling and one for aspiring teachers). The Pope Junior Wrestling Tournament was renamed to the Kim Andrews Classic. Jay and I had a memorial made with a poem Kimberly had written. It is in the front of the administration building at Pope.
Kimberly didn’t graduate from Pope – the graduation sign in the neighborhood said “In Memory Of” next to her name. The impact of her death is indescribable. There is emptiness in our lives that will never go away.
Never again will I enjoy a late night talk with Kimberly – those “mother/daughter till 1 am” talks. Never again will she be in the stands cheering Josh and Tyler on. Never again will her dad coach her in softball. The “firsts” don’t end when the 1st anniversary of your child’s death occurs. They go on forever. There is a knot in my chest every time someone asks me how many children I have – 3, I answer. It is the next question that is difficult – how old are they? Josh & Tyler are easy. It is always difficult to say that my daughter is forever 17. Both boys “age her”. If someone asks them about their family, they say they have a sister who is 22. The reality is that Josh, who is 16, and Tyler who is 14 will pass her in age very soon. No longer will I be able to say “When Kimberly was your age”.
Both boys ask questions and try to remember their sister. They were only 9 and 11 at the time. Josh is the one who realizes he will now be the first to go to college and wasn’t able to visit his older sister at school like his friends have been able to. He understands our apprehension of him driving and that he is not allowed in the car with another teenager!
Tyler has written several stories about Kimberly titled “My Hero”. “As I look back on my life and I think of a person who is a hero, I think of one person…my sister. My sister Kimberly showed me what a hero is. Kimberly was always supportive by being at my matches or games to cheer me on. As I was about to step onto the wrestling mat or the baseball diamond, I would get letters of encouragement from her. They made me want to do my best. There was never a time when she missed a game of mine. Kimberly was my cheerleader. Kimberly was a very loving person. She taught me how to care for someone. In her mind, family and friendship were number one. If I needed help, she would be there to help. I was inspired by the way she would always be helping someone in time of need. She made me feel like I was her number one priority. There was never a time when I don’t think about how she impacted my life. I just wish she were here to help me through the rest of my life”.
We miss her infectious laugh, her beautiful smile, her love, her stubbornness, her presence – everything about her!
Somehow, I still don’t know how, we have survived this devastating loss. We continue to take things one day at a time. Our perspective on what is important in life has changed. We don’t sweat the small stuff.
Kimberly was supposed to have enjoyed her senior year in high school, date, graduate from college, teach, get married, have children of her own, and be an example for her brothers. Kimberly and I were supposed to get through the hard part and be grownup friends. Kimberly used to always say, “Mom let me make my mistakes”. My answer to her was “My job as a parent is to keep you from making those life altering mistakes”. In my head, I know there was nothing I could have done to prevent this; in my heart I will always feel that I failed Kimberly by not protecting her. It wasn’t supposed to happen to Kimberly either!
- There were no drugs or alcohol involved in this accident.
- There was no speeding involved in this accident.
- No one was charged in this accident.
- There was a driver with little to no experience in driving an SUV.
- There was an SUV that flips with added weight and over correction.
Four families have gone on with their lives. Two families continue grieving.
You NEVER get over the loss of a child…I miss Kimberly every minute of every day.
As parents, we spend a lot of time making sure our children are making the right choices. We talk to you about drugs, alcohol and sex. We provide you with cell phones so you are just a phone call away. We want to meet your friends and your friends’ parents. We gain a false sense of security with our “good” kids. Car accidents only happen to “bad” kids making wrong choices, right?
Next time you get in a car, ask yourself these questions:
- Do I know if they drive responsibly?
- Am I “allowed” to be in the car with this person, either as the driver or a passenger?
- Am I where I am supposed to be – and if not, what if my parents found out – would they be proud of my decision?
- Is a friend lying for me – what would my family’s reaction be if they found out – especially if something bad happened to me?
- Am I or the person who is driving – distracted, too tired to be behind the wheel, driving too fast, or driving recklessly?
- Am I responsible enough to take the keys away from a friend, because they are not capable of driving?
The answers to these questions and your split second decision could be the difference between life and death.
I know most of you are here today because your parents made you come to this. I hope my story makes you realize that it is because they love you. Don’t make your family go through what Jay, Josh, Tyler and I live with every day and forever.
If I can get through to you, Kimberly’s death will not have been in vain. Remember Kimberly and all of the others like her. Please be mature and drive safely and wisely.