Today I sit in a prison cell a broken man. A man that wishes every waking minute of every day that I could go back to May 26, 2016, and make a different choice. The choice I made to drink and get behind the wheel of a car with my best friend by my side forever will be my biggest regret. The guilt that I carry on my shoulders knowing that my actions took his life weighs heavy on my heart and is something I forever will carry.
Casey and I were always together and he was always there for me. He loved life and lived it to the fullest every day. He showed me how not to worry about the small things that most of us spend too much time and energy on and to always look for the good in people. He never met a stranger he wouldn’t help, and he loved his friends and most especially his family. We had a band of brothers who all hung out together, and our motto was “Never leave a brother behind.” Casey always had my back and he knew I always had his, but I never thought that our motto would mean so much to me and that those simple words would lead me on a journey of healing and redemption. The knowledge that I didn’t leave my best friend to die in that field alone and did everything in my power to try to save his life is the one thing that gives me peace in the midst of tragedy.
On the night of May 25, 2016, Casey and I went to a high school graduation party, with close to 50 kids from all over the area in attendance. Beer was packed in coolers in the back of the homeowners’ truck and we were told we could drink as much as we wanted. Casey and I had graduated from high school two years prior and recently had returned home from college. We didn’t know a lot of the kids in attendance, so we hung out together, enjoying the party from the sidelines. Party goers asked us to bring a car with a loud stereo system so I drove a jeep out that had a great sound system and Casey drove my pickup. We spent the evening playing a lot of country music. Around 1:00 AM, we decided to call it quits since we both had to work the next day so Casey drove my pickup home and I drove the jeep. After arriving home, we realized that Casey had left his phone at the party, so we both jumped into the jeep and headed back out to retrieve it. As we were getting in the jeep to leave, someone from the party yelled, “Do a donut!” So I did.
After the jeep tipped I didn’t realize at first that Casey was pinned under the roll bar as he was thrown from his seat as he never fastened his seatbelt and he was sitting on the windowsill. I was stuck in my seatbelt, hanging sideways, and couldn’t get out. I was yelling for help when I glanced down and only saw Casey’s legs. The kids from the bonfire rushed over and together managed to pick up the jeep and put it back on all four tires. No doubt panicked at the sight, they all ran off, leaving me to help Casey alone. It was me and my best friend in a field all alone at nearly 2:00 AM in the morning. I dialed 911 and began to follow the instructions of the emergency operator when the phone went dead. Tamping down a growing sense of panic, I called my mom, who is an medic and happened to be on duty that night, and told her to hurry. The phone disconnected again. We were in a field where the cell reception was bad and I couldn’t get a good signal to call back. I just followed the 911 dispatcher’s instructions to perform CPR, waiting for help to arrive.
When my mom arrived on scene, she kept asking me if I was okay as I was covered in the blood of my best friend. Her partner took over chest compressions, and exhausted, I sat beside her. At the time, I didn’t realize that I had been performing CPR on my best friend for nine minutes with no relief or help. I sat beside them, crying, and I knew my mom was doing everything she could to try and save him. I remember seeing tears running down her face as she worked to put a tube down in his throat to help him breathe. Casey was in the best of hands as my mom is a great medic and would do everything she could to save his life. My mom loved Casey as if he were her own, and I could see the hurt and pain etched on her face as she struggled to save his life. Casey was hooked up to machines and my mom, her partner and Samaritan Life Flight were doing everything they could to save his life. After a few minutes, the frustration and sadness on my mom’s face told me all I needed to know. Moments later she came over and hugged me, kissed my forehead, and told me that my best friend in the whole world was gone. In that moment, I thought about Casey’s family and how disappointed they were going to be with me. I completely fell apart, hitting my head on the ground and yelling, “I’m so sorry Casey! I’m so sorry!”
In the early morning hours, I sat there in shock as police officers arrived at the scene, asking me if I was ok and wanting to know what happened. I answered all their questions about the events of the night, admitting that I had been drinking prior to the accident. I told them that I was doing donuts in the field when the jeep tipped. Knowing I owed it to Casey to tell the truth, I hid nothing from investigators. Eventually, I was arrested for OWI causing death as I had a blood alcohol level of .085. The legal limit in Indiana is .08, but since I was under age, there was no legal limit to drinking and driving. I decided to plead guilty, taking full responsibility for my actions, and was sentenced to serve time in a Department of Corrections facility.
Now, I spend my days praying for Casey’s parents who have stood by me, never blaming me for the accident that caused my best friends death. Having their love and support is helping me heal and hopefully, one day, I can move forward with my life. I also pray for my parents, especially my mom, who emotionally has suffered over this accident and the fact that she couldn’t save Casey’s life. “Never leaving a brother behind” is not just a motto for our band of brothers anymore. Since Casey’s death, it has taken on a new and deeper meaning. It has become a way of life. I never once had any intention of taking off with those kids that night and abandoning Casey to die in that field alone. I pray he is looking down from Heaven and knows that I had the chance to leave him and I didn’t. I stayed and fought for his life and kept my promise that I would never leave him behind.