By CHRISTINA SHORT, 200th Military Police Command, Fort Meade, Md.November 30, 2012
Author's note: The names of the individuals mentioned in this story have been changed to protect their privacy.
In 2001, I was a specialist living in a three-bedroom, two-story condo in Hinesville, Ga. My roommates, Lee and Eric, were also specialists and enjoyed having friends over after work and for pre-clubbing get-togethers on weekends. Every Friday, the guys went out, had a good time and, for the most part, came home when the club closed. On Saturdays, they would get up, wash their cars or run errands, and then get ready to go to the club all over again.
Shortly after we moved in together, my relationship with Eric progressed to more than "just friends." We were spending time together outside of the house on Saturdays before the guys went to the club. I didn't enjoy going to the club, so I usually stayed home. Eric always came home, so it didn't bother me that he spent those nights with his friends. Everything was going well for us until one Saturday night I will never forget.
It was mid-June and, as usual, Eric and I went out together on a Saturday. By this time, we had picked up a fourth, temporary roommate, Eric's squad leader, Kyle, who was in the process of getting out of the Army. When Eric and I got home that evening, Kyle asked if I was going to the club with them. He didn't know that I didn't go to the club, but since he asked, I agreed join them and got dressed. However, Eric didn't want me tagging along with the group, and we got into a huge argument in front of our friends. Angry, I changed my clothes and stayed home.
Sometime after midnight, Lee came home from the club, left again and returned for good at 2 a.m. Kyle strolled in about 3:30 a.m., but Eric still hadn't come home. I was pretty angry that he was so late, especially after our earlier argument. When 6:30 a.m. arrived and Eric was still out, I figured I would get even by not being there when he finally came home. I got dressed, gathered my laundry and headed to post.
As I entered a curve near Fort Stewart's main gate, I saw a Pontiac Grand Am similar to Eric's flipped upside down on the grassy area on the side of the road. The driver's side of the vehicle showed heavy damage from where it had struck a tree. When I got to the gate, I asked the guards if they knew what had happened or the identity of the owner of the car. They told me I should go to the MP station. There I was told to go the Criminal Investigation Division office. Of course, no one was at the CID office, and I was starting to feel like I was being given the runaround. I decided I'd better go home.
When I got home, Kyle was gone. Fearing the worst, I ran upstairs and busted into Lee's room. I told him to get up, get dressed and come with me to Eric's battalion. When we got there, I saw Kyle and knew what I was about to hear was not going to be good. Kyle told me Eric was dead and his passenger, whom he was giving a ride home, was in the hospital.
I later learned that after they left the club, Eric, Kyle and some other friends had gone to Hardees to eat. Afterward, as Eric was taking a friend back to the barracks, he got into a street race with another car. As Eric approached a curve near the main gate doing about 70 mph, his steering wheel locked up and he was unable to maintain control of the car. He then struck a tree and flipped over.
Eric didn't drink, so alcohol wasn't a factor in the accident -- but his negligence was. He had received a recall notice from Pontiac in reference to the steering wheel locking, but he never took his car to the dealership to have it checked out. Another thing he didn't do was wear his seat belt. He was ejected from the vehicle and died on impact.
Eric would have turned 21 that year. He left behind a 1-year-old daughter, as well as his mother, brother and a lot of friends who loved him dearly. Eric lost his life because of indiscipline -- he got caught up in a street race, didn't wear his seat belt and failed to properly maintain his vehicle by not correcting a known manufacturing defect. Some people believe that when it's your time to go, it's just your time to go. However, I believe it's only your time to go if you were doing everything right and still couldn't prevent it.
A lot of people were forever affected by the bad choices Eric made that day, and we must learn from his mistakes. Whether you're the driver or a passenger, always wear your seat belt. It can save your life. Also, make sure you take care of your car, fixing any defects as soon as you become aware. Life is short. Don't rush it because it could all be over in a flash.
Editor's note: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Recall Campaign number 98V320 warned that some 1999 Pontiac Grand Am automobiles might not have their steering wheel retaining nut properly tightened. As a result, the steering wheel could come loose from the steering shaft, increasing the risk of a crash. When owners brought their vehicles to dealerships for inspection, the steering wheel retaining nut was to be checked for correct tightness and tightened if necessary.