We’ll never know what could have been.
After graduating from Harlem High School, Andrew Hawkinberry could have been wrapping up his first year of college. Morgan Danielle Beverly could have been a freshman at Evans High. Holly Spivey, Brandon Layton, Shane Williams and Daniel Hall likely would have long since graduated from college and be out in the working world.
Instead, this school year marks the 10th anniversary of their tragic deaths, the 10th anniversary of a horrific time in Columbia County with what seemed like the death of one young person after another.
Hawkinberry was just 8 when he was killed in a crash on Interstate 20 in September 2002. Beverly was just five when her father accidentally backed over her in their driveway, also in September 2002. Spivey, an Evans High student, died along with her parents in an October 2002 house fire. Layton was a Lakeside High senior when he was struck and killed by an impaired driver in February 2003. Williams and Hall were Greenbrier High juniors when they were killed in a crash on the way to a school golf tournament 10 years ago on April 15, 2003.
A ceremony Monday marked the anniversary of that crash, which also injured two other members of the golf team. A memorial green at the school built not long after the crash has fallen into disrepair, but the bench with the boys’ names on it now sits at the front of the school, along with the “victory bell” (which currently is being repainted after a prank theft and recovery).
A more permanent memorial, however, is in the way every student travels to extracurricular activities.
After that crash, which authorities blamed on too much speed for the SUV to handle on the curvy road, the Columbia County school system changed its policy for student travel to extracurricular activities. The new rules prohibited students from driving a private vehicle with anyone other than siblings as passengers, and only with written parent permission.
To a small degree, Hawkinberry also has a memorial. The state Department of Transportation erected cable barriers in the median of I-20 to prevent cars from crossing into the head-on lane.
That barrier wasn’t installed as a direct result of the crash that killed Hawkinberry, or the crash three years later that also killed three promising young men from here – one of them a former News-Times intern, Tariq Fischer. But at least the barrier is up.
We’ll probably never know how many people are saved by those policy changes and that barrier. And we’ll never know what could have been if all those young people had survived.
We can be sure, however, that each of those lives lost makes the remaining ones more precious – and should always remind us of how important it is to drive safely.
Because we really do never know.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. Email barry.paschal@newstimes online.com, or call 706-868-1222, ext. 106. Follow at www.twitter.com/