It was April 29, 1994, when John Westhaver’s life changed permanently, and indelibly.
Around 11:40 that evening, the car that Westhaver was in, along with three friends, lost control, hit a telephone pole, rolled over, and exploded, killing three of the four people in the vehicle. While the driver hadn’t been drinking, the other passengers were, and was doing nearly 50 km over the speed limit when the accident happened.
The 18-year-old Westhaver wasn’t expected to survive. Instead, he spent a month in an induced coma, 75 percent of his body covered by burns ranging in severity from first to fourth degree.
Twenty years later, Westhaver still bears the scars, both physically and emotionally, from that incident. He’s had over forty operations to fix the damage done in a few moments that one night. These days, he tours around the province, talking to teens about the choices they make every day and how significant they are. “By simply making proper choices, teens can avoid what happened to me,” says Westhaver.
Westhaver will be in Tumbler Ridge on April 9 to speak to the students at Tumbler Ridge Secondary.
It’s part of a tour across Northern BC, organized by ICBC, to reach teens ahead of the grad party season. Spring is one of the most dangerous times for youth, with an average of 80 being injured in car accidents and two being killed between April and June.
Westhaver is one of three speakers (the other two are Mike Buckingham and Kevin Brooks), who will be visiting Northern BC schools to connect with high school students as they head into the grad and prom party season.
“It’s important that we do what we can to help B.C. youth understand the devastating impact one wrong decision could have on their lives and their families,” said Mary Polak, Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure. “The reality is that car crashes are the number one preventable cause of death for youth in B.C.ICBC’s road safety speakers help strengthen young people’s decision-making skills and teach them to think twice before taking risks behind the wheel.”
“The driving challenges faced by northern and rural drivers are often extraordinary,” said Shirley Bond, Minister of Justice and Attorney General. “There’s snow on the ground for more time during the year, secondary roads, and a lot of people who enjoy recreational activities in the back country. That’s why it’s critical for young drivers to be absolutely sober when driving. ICBC’s road safety speakers drive home that message in a personal and compelling way.”
ICBC road safety speakers share their stories with more than 50,000 BC high school students every year.
“Our road safety speaker program is one way that we reach out to students to motivate them to make smart, safe driving choices,” said John Dickinson, ICBC’s director of road safety. “Our road safety speakers connect with students through their personal, heartbreaking stories and help them realize the tragic and life-changing consequences of taking risks while driving.”
“There is no more powerful way to have students realize the potential outcomes of their choices than the ICBC road safety speakers,” said Kevin Baldridge, Vice-Principal Centre for Learning Alternatives in Prince
George. “The tragedy and loss the speakers have experienced reaches the students on a very personal level. Our students see themselves in the stories being shared and learn the steps they can to take to keep themselves and others safe. The road safety speaker presentations change behavior and in turn, I believe, save lives.”
I know what it’s like to wake from a coma and knowing that I’ll never look the same again,” says Westhaver. “And then finding out my friends were killed and never being able to say goodbye…I don’t wish this on anyone.”