Josie and Taylor spent Friday night at Madison's house because our house was still recovering from the upstairs toilet exploding. They ran errands Saturday morning and came by the house for lunch. Price invited them over to swim that afternoon and he was gracious enough to include Wade, our son. I have been thankful numerous times over the last year that Wade spent that Saturday with his sister.
They decided to eat dinner at the Blue Rose, so the girls went back to Mads to change and get beautiful for the concert. Wade drove Price to the restaurant, and they all met for dinner.,
Josie, Mads and Taylor Renee headed downtown to the Center of the Universe music festival on July 26th, 2014. They were so excited!
When dinner was over, Wade left the Blue Rose to drive himself home. He got lost and called us from downtown. We helped him navigate back to a road he recognized and waited for him to arrive home. Since the house was literally a wreck, we didn't expect the girls to come home to us Saturday night.
I don't know how the concert went. I don't know if they had fun.
Later, I would learn that Mads had to be home early. After they dropped off Madison, the kids stopped at quick trip for a water, a gatorade and a pulp-free orange juice and then headed west on 71st street. A few minutes after midnight, the kids crossed the Arkansas River and passed Officer Tidwell and Officer Henderson as they monitored the speeds of traffic. The officers would tell me early Sunday morning that they heard two crashes, the second sounding ominous about thirty seconds after the kids passed them. In that time an SUV would cross the center line and side swipe a green Taurus and then hit the kids head-on. Price saw the head lights careening for them and heard Taylor gasp.
The officers ran to the vehicles involved in the accident, three in total, and began tending to the victims while trying to avoid traffic that seldom slowed down. Their quick thinking, their professionalism, their attention to every detail deserves much praise. Since Taylor's car was leaking fluids, they felt it urgent to get the kids out of the car. They removed Price first and then Josie, but Taylor was trapped in four or five places, the car literally entombing her. The officers had to wait for the EMT, the fire department, and later the jaws of life to remove her from the car.
I am not going to write the graphic injuries our daughter suffered. Her body sustained traumatic injuries. The EMT that tended her said she must have been a strong-willed little girl for her heart to still be beating. Friends and family wish I didn't know - but I had to know. I had to know everything.
The kids were wearing their seat belts; Taylor's cell phone was found in the back of the Volkswagen, and they had not consumed any alcohol. They left the concert early enough to make the stops I mentioned above and still be moments from Price's house just after midnight. I note that time because of a comment I read on Facebook a few nights after we said good-bye to Taylor. Some kind hearted soul wrote -"That's why my kids are never out past midnight -even when they come home from college. Nothing good can happen." I will save my rant and may God save that gentleman from such a cold heart. (yes, I know I shouldn't have read it, much less hang on to it -but I do-) I hope he gets to stay blissfully unaware about how right he is. I will tell you that just two weeks ago, I found more windshield glass upstairs in the office where I have stored many of her belongings. I found windshield glass in every single item I took out of what was left of her car. I kept a handful.
A little after 1 am, on July 27th, my phone rang. In my blind, clumsy move for the phone, I declined the call. The caller ID named Taylor as the caller. I called her back but the phone went to voice mail. Instantaneously, my phone rang again and I answered, "Taylor!"
It wasn't Taylor. It was Officer Crafton telling me what no parent ever wants to hear. "Taylor has been in a serious car accident. She is on her way to St. Francis."
St. Francis' emergency room in my memory stands hollow like a white void. We waited for several minutes, pleading with our eyes every time the doors would open. Eventually, an ER nurse asked if we were the Witcher's, and we followed her into a family room. She tried to tell us the extent of Taylor's injuries, as she knew them then and she informed us about the injuries and status of Price and Josie. She tried to prepare us for what we would see and commented that Taylor had a breathing tube. I remember everything, but I will tell you I asked immediately, "Does she have a breathing tube because she can't breathe on her own or because you are afraid she can't?" The nurse took a deep breathe, looked me square in the eye and answered, "We don't know."
When the driver of the SUV arrived at the hospital, blood was drawn in accordance with the procedures and laws of Oklahoma. The driver's blood alcohol content was .22.
The driver intends to plead guilty on Thursday after waiving her right to a jury trial today. I am thankful that Josie and Price do not have to relive or re-tell the horrific details of the worst day of their lives. I am thankful I don't have to listen.
I am thankful for the officers on the scene and the officers who arrived and created a meticulous accident report. I am thankful that Officers Tidwell and Henderson followed the ambulances to St. Francis, along with Officer Crafton. Kind and attentive, they tried to answer every question we asked. I remember their eyes most; I had no way of knowing if they were parents, but their eyes suggested they were. I remember looking at their eyes and trying to hear what their words might fail to tell me. When I saw Taylor lying still on the ER table, her red hair piled in loose curls all around her head and shoulders, I didn't need to look in their eyes anymore. Nevertheless, they stayed with us until the wee hours of the morning. The Police Chaplain came, too. I don't know how to thank these men. I know I must, but I am thwarted my every effort falling ashamedly short.
I am thankful for the endless hours of prayers faithful hearts have showered over my family and me. I am confident that your prayers caused the plea to be changed from not-guilty to guilty. I am thankful for my Union family and for the Thetas for passing out the bracelets Tracy sent to honor and remember Taylor. I am blessed that the Waychoffs, the Theta's and the Redskins never fail to remember.
I have no doubt.
I have worked hard not to say or post words that would polarize people. I hope you will do the same. While our loss is tragic, the tragedy isn't over. The driver of the car who caused Taylor's death is a parent. While I can hardly think of tomorrow without my girl, my heart breaks for the children who will loose a parent on Thursday. So I'm begging you to keep praying, because those babies are innocent.
The sentencing will not occur for another 30 days. The minimum sentence for manslaughter is four years; the maximum is life. The defendant also faces two counts of "great bodily harm" for the injuries that Josie and Price suffered. Those sentences range from 0-10 years. Whatever the judge decides, the defendant, according to Oklahoma statute, will be required to serve 85% of the sentence before being eligible for parole.
Josie only remembers up to ordering the orange juice. She lost one of her best friends and about ten days of memory. She turned 19 in the hospital, had hundreds of visitors and remembers nothing of it. She faces another surgery in the weeks to come. Price bears the scars of the wreck as well, externally and internally. Still healing, his right eye may always tear involuntarily as a result of the damage caused. Then there are their hearts..... Our prayers are needed for these two magnificent young people to continue healing and living. They have much to do to change this world.
A thousand thank yous for the prayers you have offered and a thousand more in advance.
The simple joy and the beauty of their innocence captured in the pictures above may never come as easily again, but it should come. It should.
1 Thessalonians 5:5 "You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness."
May it guide us and remind us...