Monday, April 6, 2009
Ten Years Later the Memories are Vivid
On April 6, 1999 I was returning from a trip to South Carolina where I had taken my son to visit a college. It was before cell phones became a necessity in my life, so there was no way I could know the tragedy that occurred early that day in Kill Devil Hills. But as soon as I walked in my house late that night my wife greeted me with the nightmare.
Five teenagers on Spring break, crossing the Colington Road intersection were broadsided by a drunk driver. Three were dead on the scene. One was taken to Elizabeth City with serious injuries. He would be the only survivor. The fifth, with much greater injuries, was transported to Norfolk.
The shock was intensified because the girl taken to Norfolk, who would die a few days later, was Shana Lawler, a local girl whose family was in our church. Their pastor, I immediately got back in my car and drove to Norfolk to be with her family.
Ten years have passed already. But the memories for many, including first responders and witnesses is still strong. The story literally shook the Outer Banks community as did the trial that followed, underscoring the problem of drinking and driving. National attention focused on Manteo’s courthouse. The crosses at the intersection remain as a memorial and a testament to a tragedy that should not have happened.
DUI’s remain a severe problem for our local law enforcement and justice system. But there are positive results that have come from that horrific day ten years ago. Both of our northern Dare high schools have active SADD chapters. Through non-profits and local government coalitions there are both educational and treatment options available for those with addictions. Laws have been strengthened and steps continue to be made to curtail driving under the influence with more severe penalties.
But four families deal daily still with an empty space that cannot be filled. Megan, Amanda, Angela and Shana would be 27 year old young adults today. A young woman will live out her days in prison, with no hope for life outside. And Monday many of us will pause to remember. Some things we shouldn’t forget.