Dylan Giguere and Jonathan Kinsey were virtually inseparable friends who considered one another a brother. Dylan said they met in second grade when Jon sat behind him and class — and threw up on his back. An experience of that sort tends to create either a strong bond or flat-out repugnance.
They played sports together, went fishing and mudding together, and got into whatever mischief they found together to earn the distinction of hellions from their wrestling coach, according to Dylan.
One particular night, they were looking to have a good time together at a friend’s place. Rolling in a black Ford Expedition with Jon behind the wheel, they picked up four female passengers. Dylan recalled he sat behind the front passenger seat occupied by one of the females; the other three sat in the back, one in another’s lap in the middle.
Their buddy and Jon had been exchanging text messages. Dylan said Jon had been reading them aloud until one came through that he didn’t want the girls to hear. Jon reached his arm and phone toward the back seat so Dylan could see the message.
That’s when, Dylan said, Jon went off the road a little to the right, swerved to get back on and over-corrected, causing the vehicle to flip. It was after midnight Jan. 21, 2012, on Highway 70 east of Durant.
Dylan, who served in the military for a year or so until he was medically discharged, said his Marine instincts must have kicked in then. The girls were screaming, and with the vehicle stopped on its side, Dylan crawled out the top and started pulling them out. The one who didn’t appear injured Dylan sent to seek help. One of them obviously had a broken arm, which Dylan said he tried to set according to his training.
Dylan said he had kept his cool until he realized Jon was pinned under the vehicle.
He heaved the SUV an estimated seven inches before emergency response crews took over, according to his account of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper’s assessment.
Jonathan Kinsey, age 21 and father to a 2-year-old daughter, was pronounced dead at the scene. There was nothing more Dylan could do to keep his friend.
But he has done something to try to keep others from feeling that awful pain and loss. While wearing one of Jon’s ear gauges on his necklace, Dylan stood before Calera High School students and shared the details of that night as part of the Drive Aware Oklahoma campaign.
“If that story puts enough fear in you that it keeps you from picking up your phone and texting just one time, maybe that means you won’t end up like me, or worse, like Jon,” Dylan said. “Then, I think I could live with scaring you for now.”
Dylan, a 2009 Durant High graduate, said he had gotten into the habit of buckling his seat belt. He buckled up that night, but Jon did not.
Dylan said they had been smart about drinking in regard to driving, designating whom could more safely get them home or, if neither, staying where they were. He wanted to stress to the students that avoiding intoxicated driving isn’t the only precaution to take.
As Dylan said and was reiterated by law enforcement, it’s not just texting. Driver inattention might be due to talking on a cell phone, eating a taco from the drive-thru, trying to find a good song on the stereo, leaning over to reach what fell onto the floorboard, applying makeup. All of it can wait.
No one knows for sure what distracted Courtney Connel’s grandmother the night of Aug. 2, 2010.
Courtney, a sophomore at Madill High School, recounted the devastating facts of that day for Calera students.
She recalled her grandmother had agreed to take her and her sister, along with some friends, to go swimming at her father’s pool. She said they swam the day away, and it was around 10 p.m. when they were dropping off two friends. They were pulling out from the house when a semi going 55 miles per hour T-boned the Suburban.
The SUV was sent spinning and the booming crash was heard by someone who lived miles away. Courtney’s little sister, who was 4 and fastened in a car seat in the middle of the Suburban’s middle row, was able to tell someone at the scene how to contact her mommy. Courtney was distraught and couldn’t speak.
Neither could her grandmother. Emergency personnel had to cut her from the vehicle as ambulances and two helicopters stood by.
Among Courtney’s injuries apparent at the scene were a face laceration and deep cuts on her legs. She had broken ribs too, and her lungs collapsed. She had to be more stabilized before being flown, so she was taken to the Madill hospital.
She said doctors gave her a 3 percent chance of survival when they had her ready to be flown to OU Medical Center. And although the family had been given a positive prognosis regarding the grandmother with a few broken bones, Courtney said her grandma passed away as she was taken into the air. An aortic tear was thought to be the cause.
A ventilator did Courtney’s breathing on the flight. Fluid had built up in her chest and she began bleeding internally. The air paramedics had to puncture her chest with needles to release the blood and pressure.
“God was really with me on that ride to Oklahoma City,” she said.
By the time Courtney landed, she was breathing on her own. She had to be in the intensive care unit for six days, but that was just the start of a long recovery journey. Doctors had to “re-layer” the skin on her face, which had been pushed back in the wreck, using well more than 300 stitches in the repair process. She also had a brain hemorrhage.
Courtney said, “The doctors had told my mom, ‘If she does live, she’s never going to be able to walk, she’s never going to be able to talk. She’s going to be a vegetable. She’s always going to have to have someone with her because there is no way she is going to survive this and be totally fine.’”
But Courtney can now walk, and she can talk. She can cross to the center of a stage in an auditorium full of peers and television and print media, hold a microphone, profess her faith and tell about her horrific ordeal.
A year after the crash, she was too self-conscious about her leg and face to go much of anywhere. She has had surgery to minimize scaring. And if she weren’t telling the story, this reporter wouldn’t have suspected she had been through such a thing.
Renee Connel Vance, Courtney’s mom and the one who lost her own mother that August day, attended the Drive Aware Oklahoma assembly at Calera.
“I’m so proud of her for trying to make a difference, telling her story in hopes that it may save another life,” Renee said. “They all had their seat-belts on and my youngest in a car-seat. That and God saved their lives that night.
“Like she said, you never think it will happen to you. I have worked at the Madill Police Department for 14 years, and I saw things like this happen all the time. I never imagined it would be me receiving that horrible phone call. It’s a feeling I hope I never experience again.”
Calera Police Chief Don Hyde said he created a pledge page on Facebook, titled C.P.D. “Stop the Texts, Stop the Wrecks,” around 9 p.m. Monday and it was 60 members strong approximately 12 hours later. Other stories have been shared there.
Alice Collinsworth, program manager at the Oklahoma Highway Safety Office, left the captive Calera High audience with a few words: It’s in your hands. The decisions you make every day can make an impact on the rest of your life. Don’t let three seconds of inattention turn that impact into a tragic collision that ends it.
Contact Regina Phillips at (580) 924-4388 ext. 20 or on Twitter @NewspaperRegina.