May is Motorcycle Awareness Month. There were almost 3,000 crashes in Tennessee last year involving a motorcycle, including 134 motorcycle fatalities.
MADD Tennessee has seen our share of victims who were killed on motorcycles. One of the most heartbreaking stories is that of Brandon and Jenilyn Franklin. They were a young creative East Tennessee couple. Jenilyn loved to dance, write stories, and do art sketches. Brandon was the musician who played guitar and sang, especially to the love of his life, Jenilyn. They loved life. They loved to read, play board games, and spend time with Jenilyn’s younger brother, Joshua. They would take him to the movies or to ride go-carts, or play mini-golf.
They had big plans for the future. Jenilyn, 18, was majoring in Criminal Justice and hoped to, one day, join the FBI. Brandon, 21, also intended to go to college. But, first, the couple, so in love, could not wait to start their lives together! They were married on July 30, 2006, in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. For their honeymoon, they took a cruise to Bermuda and loved it so much they made plans to go back one day.
After the wedding, they moved in with Jenilyn’s parents, Wayne and Darlene Addis, and dreamed of owning their own home, travelling, and having kids – one boy and one girl. Jenilyn had a soft spot for animals and the couple adored their two beagles Shadow and Chloe. But Jenilyn’s compassion couldn’t let her turn her back on little Lucy, whose owners didn’t want her, so Lucy became the newest addition to the puppy family!
Two weeks after adopting Lucy, Jenilyn had been preparing for a dance competition and had convinced her new husband to join her. They had been working on the duo for about a week. But they decided to take an afternoon ride on their red Kawasaki motorcycle to visit friends in Sevierville.
On the way home, on September 26, 2006, they met Larry Williamson, a 3-time DUI offender with a revoked license who had taken his son’s pickup truck. Shortly before encountering the Franklins, a 911 call had come in to report that Williamson was driving erratically about seven miles away and had nearly hit two cars. As he approached the couple’s motorcycle, he crossed the center line of Highway 41 going about 55 mph and hit them head-on. Another caller, was on the phone at the time of the crash to report that “he’s running everybody off the road.” She then added, “He just had an accident.”
Brandon was thrown onto the pavement and declared dead on arrival at the hospital. Jenilyn, thrown onto the grass, was airlifted to the University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville, where she died during surgery. The newlyweds had been married less than two months.
The driver who killed them was on a “cocktail” of prescription drugs including tranquilizers and prescription painkillers. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison for aggravated vehicular homicide.
“They had so much to do and so much life ahead of them. I was looking forward to them having babies and to me being a grandmother. Now they’re not here,” says Jenilyn’s mom, Darlene. “They will always be in my heart and soul and I will fight for them until the day I cease to breathe. They may be gone, but they will never, ever be forgotten. They are ALWAYS in my heart.”
Brandon and Jenilyn never had a chance when they encountered the drugged driver who hit them, but there are things you can do to try and keep yourself as safe as possible when on a motorcycle. The Tennessee Highway Safety Office offers safety information for motorcyclists as well as for other Tennessee drivers to remind them to be diligent in watching for motorcycles when on the roads.
And, as always, please heed prescription drug warnings about operating motor vehicles, do not take more than the recommended dose of any medicine, make sure your doctor knows all medications you are taking, and, above all, use common sense. Pay attention to how drugs affect you and DON’T DRIVE if you are woozy, your reflexes have been compromised, a drug makes you drowsy, or your ability to focus has been hampered.
Trust us: Brandon and Jenilyn would tell you themselves…if they could.