In Her Own Words
My name is Valerie, I’m a survivor, and I’d like to share my story with you. I was nine years old and it was a warm summer night in August during which we were headed to New Mexico. My sister was going to be in a wedding and my cousin Tina had stayed with us in Arizona after we had taken a family trip to California. It’s like when I think about it in my mind, it can take me right back to that August summer night. The last night Tina and I played as little girls should, full of fun, lots of laughter, and tons of little girl giggles. But on August twelfth my life would forever change because some stranger decided to get behind the wheel of his vehicle and plow head-on into ours at a high rate of speed, killing my cousin Tina instantly.
You see we started our journey from Oracle, AZ and we were having car trouble. So my father called his brother, Tina’s father, to meet us at Show Low, AZ. At that time Tina and I decided to jump in her father’s truck. She hadn’t seen her parents for two weeks and we had been driving with my mom for three hours already and we needed to change. We were almost to Springerville, AZ. I have memories of Bubble Yum Gum smell… I can smell that like it was yesterday. You see we were laughing, giggling, singing, and trying to see who could blow the biggest bubble when lights came plowing into us head-on at a high rate of speed.
All of a sudden it was dark, cold, and piercing screams were heard for miles, I’m sure. In just that second, not only was one life was lost, but four family’s lives were changed. Like a ripple effect on water it just kept going. There were four of us in that truck. The crash killed Tina instantly. I broke both arms, both legs, shattered my right kneecap. I also had a compound fracture below the knee. If you don’t know what that is, my bone broke clear through my skin. Additionally, I cracked my forehead from one side to the other. My right leg was literally wrapped around my back. Another cousin they said was “lucky” because she only needed facial stitches on her forehead. My uncle, Tina’s father, broke his hip and nose. We, the three of us that were lucky to survive, were then transported by ambulance and then I was air evacuated to Phoenix.
BUT do you know what I remember… I remember Tina’s little body laying over mine and then driving away in the ambulance and leaving her there on the side of the road. I even yelled as the ambulance drove off, “Where is Tina? Why is she not in the ambulance!!” Not knowing or realizing she was already gone. I learned later, that because she was a little bigger than me, that I was LUCKY. Imagine that word again. Had it been me sitting next to the door we would both have passed, but because she was a little bit more stocky built that me, it saved me. Can you imagine living with that all your life and blaming yourself? Wanting to sit by the door, but because it was her dad’s truck she got the door. What a prize huh?
As I write this I am 49 years old. Doctors told me that I was never going to walk, much less run, and I would never be able to bend my knee. I thought my life was over because all my dreams were taken. You see I had tried out for cheer-leading that summer. And guess what? I made the team, but unfortunately I never got to wear that uniform or any other team uniform because of someone else’s selfish decision to drive drunk.
I recently found out that the man that crashed into us that night has passed away. He had gotten into a huge fight with his son on that August night. His decision was to go to a a bar and forget his problems. But look at the price so many people paid… because of one man’s selfish decision. So I’m here today to share my story in hopes that if you find yourself running from a problem, alcohol or drugs are not the answer. Your decision to have a good time can turn into somebody else’s lifetime of nightmares.
Valerie regularly volunteers and the MADD office and has begun to share her story publicly. Most recently, Valerie recorded a PSA with Pinal County Sheriff Lamb for Country Thunder. Previously she interviewed with The Arizona Daily Star. In addition, she’s also done multiple on-camera interviews, to include one with KVOA.
As a way to help her heal, Valerie volunteers for MADD. On Wednesday nights she answers called made to the MADD Victim Survivor Helpline. When there is a task to be completed in the office, she is the first one offer her help. Valerie attends the MADD SO AZ Vigil, Walk Like MADD, Honoring Our Heroes Banquet, and Holiday Remembrance Ceremony each year.
Not only does Valerie volunteer to answer calls on the helpline, but she also reaches out to victim survivors using other methods. On more than one occasion she has provided comfort to those in need on the MADD Victim Services Facebook Group. Furthermore, her warm personality has caused her to connect with numerous victim survivors at the events she attends locally.