It's that time of year again. I'm not talking about that time when Alabama starts practicing for their broad-casted A-Day game. I'm not talking about that time when Alabama baseball is gearing up. No, the occasion I'm referring to is the death of four teenagers that had a love and zeal for life that most would envy, that were taken too young.
March 21, 2008...a day I'll never forget. Not today, but more than a week away. An early article because the point hope to be made would be made too late if I wait for the actual date. And I might not be strong enough to write it on that date.
It was Spring Break. Everyone had their own plans and own group of friends. But it didn't matter, because whether we were at the beach, at home, at Six Flags, or wherever else, rest assured we were all enjoying ourselves. After all, you only have one shot at being a teenager right? And we all planned on living it up.
Friday is a day we all look forward to in time. It's the weekday where we anxiously await the bell or the clock hitting 5 that tells us to go home for the weekend. It's the day before a football game for some, and the day of a football game for others. All of these things made Friday an ordinary day. But the fact that this was a Spring Break Friday made it even more extraordinary.
This particular Friday, there was gorgeous weather. 60 degrees with a slight breeze and the sunshine was out. It was perfect weather to be outdoors, the perfect weather to go horseback riding or the perfect weather to be riding around in a convertible. That's just what my friends were doing when Zach's hat flew off...and what would make more difference in their lives and ours than we knew was possible.
In high school, we tend to get so busy that we neglect the poor grandparents, aunts, and uncles. Spring Break seemed to be a good time to visit my Aunt in Georgia so I trekked out there that Wednesday or Thursday and was shocked to be getting calls asking if my sister and I were OK. And that's when I get the message...
Joel, Zach, Stephanie, and Lyndsey had been on there way to Oak Mountain State Park to go horseback riding when Zach's hat flew off. It was an Alabama hat that his deceased grandfather had given him. The hat meant a lot to him so he pulled off the Interstate, shifted into reverse and went in hopes of getting it back. That's when the back of his car fish-tailed and was hit by a Fed Ex truck going about 65 mph.
Emergency crews were called, police and EMTs said this was one of the worst scenes they'd been to in a while. if not ever. The teenagers were unrecognizable. One wasn't even found until the truck was pulled from the top of the car. One was thrown from his seat with his boots left on the floor. All dead immediately.
All the students returned Monday in shock. We had just had conversations with them. They had just been there...they couldn't be gone could they? Cliques and clamouring to the specific lunch table you sat at didn't matter at the moment. The math test Tuesday didn't matter and worrying about Prom wasn't that big of a deal. Instead, we were reminded about how Joel hated Math, Stephanie had just bought the perfect Prom dress, and Lyndsey had just bought her perfect 8th grade banquet dress two months early. (Pink of course)
A week full of funerals that reminded us of the people we had lost. The people their families had lost. Stephanie and Lyndsey could brighten up any room with their bright blue eyes and gorgeous smiles. They were sisters, so they fought, but they loved each other, and would do anything to help each other. Joel and Zach were "the good ole boys." Those guys could make you laugh when you really wanted to just cry. Both goofy, but both were guys that loved their family, friends, and country more than anything. All amazing people, all gone too young.
The news crews constantly reminded parents and teenagers about this tragedy. Comments on news boards mentioned that the driving age should be raised to 18, clearly overlooking the fact that Zach was 18. There were lawyers trying to get to the individual families. Every turn and every trip on the interstate to and from school reminding students of the people they had lost. The mile marker went missing, the black tire tracks, and blood stains that are still there today...are constant reminders.
Now, almost a year later, they are all missed. They are all loved. They will never be forgotten. Hopefully, their story and their families and friends pain will remind everyone that we won't be here forever. Joel's dad said at the funeral he had been bugging him to get a motorcycle and he'd told him later not knowing there wouldn'tbe a later. Stephanie and Lyndsey's mom said they hadn't let them go to the beach during Spring Break because they were too young and that they could go next year. They never imagined there wouldn't be a next year. No one did.
This isn't about football. This isn't about sports at all really. It's just a friendly reminder to give your kids an extra hug and "I Love You," before they walk out the door. It's just a reminder to the teenagers on this site that you aren't invincible. Anything can happen at any given time.
This is in memory of Joel Swinford, 18; Zachary Livingston, 18; Stephanie Baker, 17; and Lyndsey Baker, 14. You are all amazing people no matter where you are. And Steph, sorry the Iron Bowl didn't work out for ya. I could picture you waving another finger at me and telling me how y'all would win again. But I was sure Zach and Joel gave ya a hard time about it for me.