Students at Pueblo West High School learned a tough lessons Thursday about the consequences of dangerous driving.
Teenagers not only heard the powerful story of a crash victim and survivor, but acted out an accident that claimed the life of one of their own.
A car crash changed the life of Tyler Presnell forever. When he was only 14 years old, his friend was showing off while driving when he lost control, and rammed into a telephone pole going 70 miles per hour.
Presnell took the brunt of the crash, while his twin brother, little sister, and the driver walked away with non-serious injuries.
He still lives with the affects of the crash everyday, 13 years later. The 27-year-old struggles with physical ailments including a paralyzed left leg from the kneecap down. But even more challenging, he lives each day with over 80 percent of his short-term memory gone.
“These permanent injuries are the daily, painful reminders of the accident that forever changed my life,” said Presnell.
After 22 surgeries, two stints on life support, and six weeks in a coma, Presnell now wants to empower teens to speak up when drivers disrespect them by putting their lives at risk.
“I’m gonna speak up to my friends now because Tyler, you painted the picture in my mind. Now I don’t think they are the coolest person on the planet when they put my life at risk. Now I don’t think they are the coolest person when they disrespect me,” Presnell told 11 News he hoped students would say after listening to him speak.. “Now I know who I am and how important I am and now I’m gonna speak up.”
Presnell explained to the students that sometimes as younger teens you can feel peer-pressured into following along with the dangerous driving because the driver is older than you. Presnell instead encourages teens to stand up.
He reminded them that by driving safely and taking actions to stop dangerous driving, you're not only caring about your own life of the importance of not just caring about your own life, but also caring about innocent people. He says it all boils down to respect.
“It’s sad, really sad that we as people are more afraid of getting pulled over, more afraid of a police officer seeing us speeding, more afraid of a stoplight camera catching us than we are about hurting someone’s life. That is messed up,” said Presnell.
Thursday, teens also experienced firsthand how dangerous driving can change a life through a mock car crash.
"Getting pulled onto the stretcher, and dragged down the hill, and put in the helicopter was really intense, it was quite an experience,” said senior Mecon Millam, who played a crash victim.
In the scenario, a teen driver who only had two beers caused the crash that claimed the life of a student on prom night.
"It was really intense and felt real and I would never want to actually be in this situation; being blamed for taking someone's life, it's scary,” said senior Leonorah Orosco, who played the drunk driver.
Every year local law enforcement and emergency responders in the area take part in the mock collision in hopes of sending a powerful message to students: choices have consequences.
"It's important for children our age to know how one decision, though it may seems fun at the time, can affect everybody for the rest of your life,” said sophomore Leigha Summers who helped organize the mock crash.
Presnell has dedicated his life to telling his story to teens just like these. Currently he is working with AAA, the Colorado Department of Transportation, and the state’s Regional Emergency and Trauma Advisory Councils (RETACS) to talk to teens about being safe drivers and responsible passengers.
He is touring 18 communities in Colorado, stopping at 23 high schools to reach 15,000 students through the month of April.
The teen driver in Presnell’s accident had just received his license at the time of the crash. In Colorado, it’s against the law for teen drivers to have any passengers under the age of 21 for the first six months of their license, and then only one passenger under 21 for the second six months.
To hear more about Presnell's powerful story, or to contribute to the Tyler Presnell Foundation (non-profit organization) visit www.tylerpresnell.org.
For more information on Colorado teen driving safety and laws visit www.COteendriver.com or visit Keys2Drive (www.teendriving.aaa.com/CO/), a AAA website to help parents and teens through the learning-to-drive process.
Teens who want to offer some safe driving advice could win an Apple iPad donated by Huddle and Dick’s Sporting Goods. All Colorado teens age 15-19 are invited to fill out a short survey at www.coteendriver.com/iPad. A winner will be chosen in May.