Nobody starts up their car believing they’re going to hurt someone that day.
But every year, there are about 90 deaths directly caused by distracted driving. And for every one of those distracted driving deaths, there are family members, bystanders, emergency responders and medical staff who are left to pick up the pieces of a life cut short. Left to try to make sense of it.
Heidi Cave is one of those people. Her best friend was killed when their vehicle was hit by a car traveling more than 100 km/hr in a 60 km/hr zone. They were pushed into a ravine, killing Betty on impact and trapping both girls in their seat belts, upside down. Witnesses scrambled to help, but the steep hill kept help from reaching the car.
One man climbed down and sat with Cave, and even as the car became engulfed in flames and his boots began to melt, he held her hand.
“I was trapped, I was alive, and I was on fire,” Cave said, speaking to the grad class at Sardis secondary on Monday afternoon.
And she was in that position just because another driver made a choice to race through the streets of Abbotsford.
That was 16 years ago, on June 12, 1998. It was easily the worst moment of the young woman’s life. She was saved from the burning car, but lost both her legs in the devastating crash. While she was in a coma, her parents had to sign papers for the doctors to amputate one leg, which was beyond repair. When Cave had regained consciousness, and learned of her accident, she had to say goodbye to the second leg.
“I was devastated,” she said. “This was permanent. I would never wiggle my toes again, or feel my feet on the ground, or even walk normally.”
Burns covered 52 per cent of her body — mostly from her torso down, down to the bone in some places — and skin transplants from her upper body to lower body were difficult and tiring. She’s had to learn how to walk again, and her skin is still not fully healed. The driver of the car that hit her and Betty has already been to court, through the system, and served five months behind bars (he was released seven months early), yet Cave is still dealing with the fallout from the crash. She is still dealing with that one driver’s choice to speed. And her best friend is still dead.
I still don’t know the magnitude of what (Betty’s parents) are going through,” she said. “I didn’t understand why she died and I didn’t.”
But her enthusiasm for life has kept her from wallowing in self pity. Instead, she’s chosen to focus on the positive. When she woke up from the coma, she heard her boyfriend ask her: “Do you want to live?”
And even though it would have been easy to give up, easy to be a victim, she wanted to fight back.
Her answer was yes, and seven months later she emerged from the hospital to start her new life.
“I don’t tell you these things so you’ll feel sorry for me,” she said. “I tell you so it will affect your decisions. I certainly don’t want to be the victim in my story.”
Cave has written a book, Fancy Feet, that is available at several book stores. She travels around and speaks to high school students for ICBC, reminding young drivers they have a choice to make behind the wheel while showing them the potential for making the wrong choices.
“What happened to me wasn’t an accident,” she said, “but the result of a careless choice.”
As a parting gift, she left a copy of her book for the school’s library.
“I have turned my tragedy into a story of hope,” she said.
She has even forgiven the driver, who was 19 and already prohibited from driving when he crashed into the girls’ car. His 17-year-old brother was in the car, and initially they had said the younger brother was driving. A police investigation led to the truth, and the eventual conviction and sentencing.
“The trial went on for a week, and when the judge stepped out before sentencing I couldn’t breath,” she said. “He was handcuffed and taken away. It was hard to watch, for everyone. And I didn’t take any pleasure in it. All I felt was sadness and loss because this didn’t have to happen. It was like losing Betty all over again.”
To learn more about Heidi Cave’s story, visit www.heidicave.com.