With grad celebrations and ceremonies just around the corner, local parents are starting to think about the well being and safety of their children, and so are the teachers and administrators at Lake Cowichan Secondary School.
On April 10, John Westhaver, a public speaker currently touring schools on the south, north, and central coast, stopped by Lake Cowichan Secondary to speak to students.
Westhaver received burns to 75 per cent of his body when he was the victim of a tragic car accident on April 29, 1994. Westhaver and three of his buddies had gone out to a pool hall for an evening of fun, but on the drive home something terrible happened. Westhaver’s good friend, who was the designated driver, lost control of the 1980 Chevy Impala. The vehicle rolled several times in the ditch before hitting a telephone pole. Westhaver says that somehow he managed to get out of the vehicle and that a good samaritan, who happened to be driving by, tried to cover Westhaver first with his jacket and then by rolling him on the ground to put out the flames that consumed Westhaver’s body.
When Westhaver awoke a month later in hospital, he discovered that all three of his friends had died in the accident. He has had numerous surgeries over the past 18 years, and these surgeries are still ongoing, though he says that at this point they are nothing major.
Westhaver says that he began speaking out about dangerous driving about 10 years ago, two years after he had moved to Victoria B.C. from St. Stephen, New Brunswick. He says he started to think about giving back to the community. “I’m at a point in my life where I need to give back,” he says. “I do it because I care.” He would like to think that anyone in his position would do the same. “Anyone would do this. It’s what any other person should do.”
Westhaver says that for him, keeping the youth of today safe when they are behind the wheel, is all about communication and personal choice. Communication between parents and children, and between students and teachers. “I hope that the youth think about the choices they make,” he says. “I hope they don’t drink or do drugs, but if they do, I hope they think about their choices. If you are in vehicle and you feel uneasy, have the strength to speak up and say something.”
There is always someone to call for a ride home, including parents. And this is where communication comes in. Westhaver firmly believes that parents need to sit down and communicate with their children. He says that this communication, especially for those whose children are approaching graduation, needs to be done on a one on one basis; person to person, not as parent to child. He sees this kind of communication as much more effective. “Saying ‘don’t do this, don’t do that’ is not effective. You have to communicate why you don’t want your child to do certain things.” In this way parents can educate their children and help them to think about the choices they make and how those choices can have a long-lasting impact on their lives.
Westhaver says he really enjoyed speaking with students at LCSS. “I loved it. It was amazing. It’s always good to go to schools and share and get feedback.” After his talk, Westhaver received comments of appreciation from a few of the students at LCSS over Twitter. “It makes you feel amazed when students give feedback and this (Twitter) is just another venue for them to communicate.”
Dianne Martin, a secretary at LCSS, also had the chance to share her story with students on April 10. Martin was the victim of a terrible accident on her 18th birthday. She says that she and the other passengers in the car were not aware of the amount of alcohol the driver had consumed before they went out for pizza that evening. On the way to the restaurant, the driver, tired from a long day at work on top of being intoxicated, fell asleep at the wheel. The car crossed the road and hit a stump and Martin ended up with a 350 pound man on top of her. “It wasn’t so much his weight,” says Martin, “but the positioning of his feet” that did the damage. Martin ended up with a broken neck and back and remains in a wheelchair to this day.
Martin (whose surname at the time of the accident was Webb) says that this was her first time speaking about her accident in public and even though she was scared for the first couple of minutes, she was able to get over her fear and focus on the fact that it’s important to remind people about what happened to a local individual.
Martin spent three months in hospital after the accident and had to adjust to living life in a wheelchair, but she refuses to see herself as stuck. She is living proof that you can do anything when you put your mind to it. Martin is married and her and her husband have two children, now in their 30s.
So 2012 grads, be safe out there as you celebrate your freedom at the end of June, and remember that your friends and family count on you being around for years to come. Each choice you make can affect you for the rest of your life.
Westhaver would like to thank ICBC for funding his B.C. coast speaking tour, as well as the Fire Fighters Burn Fund of Victoria.