Chilliwack grads get tough lesson on luck
Grade 12 students at G.W. Graham secondary got a fresh reminder not to drink and drive going into grad season.
By way of a wheelchair.
Last Thursday, Kevin Brooks told the 2012 grad class his story.
By all accounts, this guy looked to be a pretty hip guy. He was sporting a manicured blonde Mohawk, fingerless black gloves, and skater shoes. He spoke the lingo, had the hand gestures, fit the high school 'cool' checklist.
But instead of punk rock stickers on his once beloved skateboard, they're now featured on the back of his wheelchair.
All because of "the reckless, stupid choices I used to make years ago," he said.
Twelve years ago, on June 24, 2000 – the day after his younger sister's graduation – Brooks, then 21, got behind the wheel of his car.
He had been drinking for hours.
Despite not being that far from home, despite his parents offering to pick him up if needed, despite his friends telling him it was stupid to drive, and that he should hop in a cab with them, Brooks was having none of it.
"Looking back, I wish I had," he said. "Because if I had, I wouldn't be sitting in this wheelchair right now."
On a street he drove every day, felt he knew like the back of his hand, he accelerated to 140 km in a 70 zone.
Luck was not on his side.
Instead of winding around a slight curve in the road, Brooks shot straight through it. His car flew over the divider and cleared the other side of the road. When it landed in the grassy area, it flipped – front over back, front over back.
Brooks doesn't remember the accident.
He was found dangling upside down in the vehicle, barely clinging to life. It took more than an hour for the Jaws of Life to free him.
He had a dislocated left shoulder, separated right shoulder, fractured vertebrae, collapsed lung, minor head injury, his lip was split right through, his arms shredded, and his body, so bruised, had swelled to double its size.
"It's a miracle I'm alive," Brooks said.
When he woke up in the hospital, tubes attached to nearly every part of him, he didn't understand why he couldn't feel his legs.
"Kev, I'm really sorry, you're paralyzed," his mom told him.
He still didn't understand. He tried to wiggle his toes, thought that would be simpler, surely he – a hockey player, skateboarder, snowboarder, mountain climber, cliff jumper – could wiggle his toes.
"I started to panic," he said. "I was freaking out, but beside me my mom was crying, and so I tried to keep it inside, tried to be tough. But inside, I was devastated."
Still, that wasn't the worst of it.
Brooks started asking if there was anyone in the car with him. He went through every friend he could think of, and his mom kept shaking her head. When he'd gone through the list, a flood of relief filled him.
"Thank God, it was just me," he said.
"No Kev," his mom told him, "there was someone else with you."
Brendon Beuk, a childhood buddy, had hopped into the car with him.
He didn't survive.
"All I could think was what have I done to these people; I've ruined their lives," said Brooks. "I can't even tell you the word that describes that feeling, but I can tell you, I never want you to experience that. I wish that on none of you."
Brooks didn't want pity from the grad class, but he did hope they heard his message.
"I learned the hard way luck doesn't last forever," he said. "One night my luck ran out. I'm paralyzed from the chest down – there's no fix, no cure.
"You can't go back."