‘Hardcore, crazy dude’ reaches out to teen driversWritten by Amy Biolchini | | ABiolchini@toledofreepress.com
“Why can’t I move?” was Kevin Brooks’ first question when he woke up in a hospital bed.
Brooks tried desperately to move his legs. Nothing. He concentrated on a simpler task: Wiggling his toes. Still nothing.
Paralyzed from the chest down, Brooks survived a fatal car crash in which he was the driver. His longtime friend and passenger, Brendon Beuk, wasn’t as fortunate.
The crash was ten years ago. Brooks, 31, now daily recounts the story of how a typical night of drinking and partying for he and his Vancouver, Canada, crew changed his life. Speaking to high school students throughout his home country and the U.S., Brooks seeks to reach the high-risk kids just like him.
“I’m this hardcore, crazy dude. I want kids to realize ‘Holy crap, that’s me up there,’” Brooks said. “The story I tell isn’t about drinking and driving. It’s about choices, consequences and picking yourself up when you’re down. Don’t cross the line, that’s ultimately my message.”
Brooks spoke at the Oct. 19 Safe Teen Driving Seminar hosted by AAA Northwest Ohio at Parkway Place in Maumee. Nearly 500 parents and teens received safety tips and driving techniques presented by AAA, the Ohio State Patrol and Mercy St. Vincent Life Flight. A mock car crash with teen actors greeted visitors to the event.
Sue McCloskey, vice president of AAA Northwest Ohio, said in her introduction, “If tonight makes you think a little differently, we’ve accomplished our goal.”
Nick Jackson, a 15-year-old student at Anthony Wayne High School, said, “My old babysitter died five years ago. They think she was texting while driving.”
Several of his friends have been in situations where there was drinking, Jackson said.
13ABC traffic reporter and host Andi McKay recalled a story she said she hasn’t spoken about since 1983. McKay’s high school boyfriend died in a car accident after their group of friends left the drive-in movie theater in a caravan. Although no alcohol was involved, the driver was distracted by spilled Cheetos and swerved sharply, causing the vehicle to roll five times.
“He was astonishing and I can’t even describe this guy to you. His name was Michael,” McKay said.
McKay then gave the stage to Brooks, whose wheelchair gave him his own introduction. Brooks kept the audience’s attention with his blond Mohawk and honesty. Brooks said he used to party to the point of not even caring.
“I made it home and I didn’t know how I got home. I had one shoe. Typical weekend morning,” Brooks said.
Drinking and driving was nothing new to Brooks.
“Every time I went out with my friends, we had buddies that were the ‘good drunk drivers.’ But I know now it wasn’t skill, it was luck,” Brooks said.
The night of the crash, Brooks drove from party to party. He stopped back at his house to swipe some beer from his dad’s fridge. Turning to look back at his car, Brooks contemplated going to sleep.
Brooks and his friends stumbled out of the last party at 3 a.m. While some of his friends got into cabs, Brooks got into his car. Beuk decided to ride with him.
“Tunes cranked, beers cracked, phones going. Peaceful summer night, stars in the sky, you know the kind,” Brooks said. “I remember driving past our old high school and stopped at a red light. I took a left. And that’s my last memory.”
His family filled him in on the rest. Brooks took a curve going 80 mph and went off the road. After rolling end over end, the car came to a rest at the bottom of a hill. The entire front end was flattened.
Brooks didn’t remember Beuk, a hockey buddy since the age of 5, getting in the car with him after the party as he recalled the night from his hospital bed. Beuk suffered massive head injuries and died at the age of 20.
“If I could cut one part out of the story that would be it,” Brooks said. “I don’t know a word or series of words to describe that feeling.”
With a 20 to 30 percent chance of making it out of the ICU, Brooks couldn’t speak for weeks because of the breathing tube in his throat.
“The paramedics told me if I hadn’t been wearing a seat belt I wouldn’t have lived,” Brooks said. “They said I didn’t even look like a person.”
The morphine made Brooks hallucinate and he lashed out at hospital staff. Strapped to his bed to prevent him from ripping out the tubes keeping him alive, he battled a stream of infections and dark thoughts.
“Honestly, lying in that hospital bed, my life was over,” Brooks said. “The biggest choice I made was whether to let the story I’m sharing with you tonight overcome me.”
Before the crash, Brooks was a 6-foot-tall skateboarder and snowboarder. He soon realized that once he got home, his world wouldn’t be the same.
“It was something that hit me pretty early on. I have to speak in schools, I have to speak to young people,” Brooks said. “What really hit me was that kids will probably listen to me.”
Brooks speaks with three empty chairs sitting next to him. One is for Beuk. The remaining two are for friends Chris and Jordan. Chris died in a shooting and Jordan took his own life.
“I’m the one with the voice to share our story,” Brooks said. “I talk about suicide; I talk about violence because these things are killing our young people.”
With 10 presentations a week and approximately 150 per year, Brooks has a full-time job. His fan response is huge. Scrolling through the Twitter feed on his BlackBerry, Brooks points out the numerous mentions from the students he also spoke to Oct. 19 at Notre Dame Academy. Many teens Brooks meets are dealing with thoughts of suicide.
“I read this e-mail that I saved someone’s life. That keeps me going,” Brooks said. “If I felt like I was wasting my breath I wouldn’t do this.”
During the trial, Brooks pled guilty to the charge of causing the death of his friend.
“The only reason I didn’t go to jail was because Brendon’s family went to bat for me. Their support blows my mind,” Brooks said.
After his talk, footage rolls of Brooks and his friends skateboarding, snowboarding and jumping into a lake.