I am very much familiar with the feeling of letting go of control, and letting God take over. So, I wanted to share my story with you. But buckle up, its long.
I came to know Christ when I was 10 years old. I was a big kid now, and I wanted to know what it was like to have a best friend. I accepted Jesus in VBS. One I attended not because my parents made me, but because I wanted to know what it was. It was a special moment for me.
As any teenager does, I started to wander away from Jesus and my church when I was 16 years old. I had better things to do. I had friends to hang out with, work to do, and why did God care about me anyway? I wasn’t important enough for his attention or anyone else’s. So I strayed.
I started to get lonely and experience a lot of hate and anger when I was 18. By the time I graduated high school, I was almost begging for God. I even said “God, if you’re real. Just….give me some sort of sign. Show me you work.” It wasn’t immediate, but I got my answer.
It was August 27th, 2008. I was in a fight with my now ex-boyfriend. He stated we wanted to hang out with his friends before they left for college, rather than hanging out with me. With nothing to do, and a bad attitude, I called my friend Jimbo (James) Markham. I woke him up, as usual, around noon. I asked him what his plans were for the day, and he told me he planned to meet up with a mutual friend of ours, Jaymee Schwerin. He asked me if I would tag along, and I said of course. At the time I didn’t know who was driving, so I offered. I had just bought my first car at the beginning of summer and, as usual, was anxious to drive it. I told Jimbo, so long as I got a few dollars for gas to pick Jaymee up and run around town, it would be fine. We hung up the phone with plans made.
I remembered promising another friend of mine, Hannah Twomey, that I would hang out with her as well. I called her and asked if she wanted to come along, and she agreed after she was through with lunch plans with another group of friends, that she would. So, with plans made, I readied myself for the day and headed to get the group of friends. I started with Hannah, and then Jimbo (because they were both in town). We stopped at the gas station, for sodas and gas, and headed towards Oshkosh, where Jaymee lived.
Things went smoothly on the drive there, minus the wind through downtown Oshkosh which is VERY difficult. We got to Jaymee’s house, and there was a minor tiff about who would sit next to who, but it was all in good fun. We all piled in my car, and headed back for Appleton. I remember Jimbo trying to give me directions back to the highway, and I told him to tell me one direction at a time, cause I was already confused. That is the last thing I remember.
The next thing I know, I am waking up in a hospital bed with a nurse standing over me telling me not to talk, that I’d been in an accident, and I had a tube down my throat. I had sustained a broken neck, three broken ribs, two broken hips, a collapsed lung, a half functioning lung, lost a kidney, lacerated my liver, and a few cuts and bruises. I was lucky to be breathing. Even if by the help of a machine.
Being the person I am, even through the fog of the medication and intense pain, wondered about the others in my car. I had no way of asking, except to write on a piece of paper, illegibly. It was one of the most frustrating things in my life, because I wanted to know if my friends were okay, and no one could tell me because no one knew what I was asking. They did keep telling me that everyone was “taken care of”. When the tube was taken out of my throat and I could breathe on my own again, I asked “Where’s Jimbo and Hannah and Jaymee? Are they okay?” They told me Jaymee was just upstairs, she had a broken leg but she was okay. So, of course, that left Hannah and Jimbo. My dad was the one who told me, that they were gone. It kind of hit me like a ton of bricks, and I cried, but it didn’t feel like I was. Just thinking about the fact that two of my closest friends just didn’t exist anymore, was incredibly difficult for me to wrap my minds around. Jimbo had died at the scene, and Hannah had made it to the hospital before she passed. It was hard to accept, and in some ways, I still haven’t.
I was in the hospital for 9 days, in total. Which, considering my injuries, was a miracle of God. I had a strong will and want to go home. I had worldwide prayer and the support of my family and friends. I also hated hospitals. My surgeon did not believe I would be out of there any sooner than 2-3 weeks. Perseverance and pure stubbornness is what got me through, I believe. My 9 day hospital stay was only the beginning.
After my recovery, began the legal repercussions of the accident. Although at the time, I was still confused, and literally didn’t remember anything, people died in my car. I was terribly worried the families of Jimbo and Hannah were going to go forward with some sort of criminal charges, because they needed someone to pay. To my surprise, it wasn’t them that went forward with the charges, but the state of Wisconsin. We were doing a lot of…back and forth with police, district attorneys, lawyers, etc. Finally, the state decided to go forward, charging me with homicide due to negligent use of a motor vehicle. We hired a lawyer, and went through with the process. It started, as usual, with a hearing where I would put in a plea. I pleaded no contest at that time, and they moved to set an arraignment date. At the first hearing, the ordered a pre-sentence investigation. They wanted to talk to me, my parents, and the parents of the victims. As a personal opinion, the PSI was the stupidest thing and gave the most inaccurate information on the planet on my part. The investigator decided that I “hadn’t taken responsibility for my actions” and “played the victim”, when I specifically stated the contrary. I think that she was set that I was already a criminal and I could never take responsibility for what I did, even though I still, to this day, do not know what it IS I did. The arraignment was just the acknowledgement of the charges, and setting a sentencing date.
Throughout this whole process, people were writing letters to the DA. Friends, family, relatives, etc. were writing character letters, telling the DA how I am not a dangerous driver, and stating the kind of person I was. The DA received over 30 character letters and was quite surprised. He had letters coming from friends, parents of friends, relatives, I even received a letter from someone I didn’t know. Every letter stated what a “careful” driver I was, and that the accusations that were being thrown my way were completely out of my character; that I was the “granny driver” of all my friends. I was always the careful driver. I’d never intentionally put someone’s life in danger in my car.
But while the character letters showed who I was, there still had to be repercussions, because there were deaths in my car. Come the day of my sentencing (April 22, 2009), I had about 20-25 people in the small court room, sitting behind me, supporting me. Jimbo’s parents were there, and his mother spoke. She defended me as much as she could, and stated that she didn’t think jail time would serve any purpose. The Markhams were my silver lining. They were there at my house when I got out of the hospital, and stood by my side the entire process. The Twomey’s were quite the contrary, but surprised me on the day of my sentencing, stating that that they didn’t think jail time would serve any purpose either. Jaymee wasn’t there. I got to speak on my own behalf, and so did my father. I said :
“August 27, 2008 was the worst day of my life. I lost two of my best friends, and hurt another. I caused fear and hurt for no one I ever intended to. And I can’t even remember how. Jimbo and Hannah were two of my best friends and my lifeline. They were everything to me, absolutely everything. I would never put them in danger. And there is nothing in this world I wouldn’t do to bring them back. There is nothing I can do to pay back the families I have hurt. I can keep their memory alive and keep my memories fresh, but that will not bring the Twomeys daughter or the Markhams son back. I am told that I am a very careful driver. An “old lady” driver, as it were. I never speed. I am careful. I avoid the highway if possible. I would never leave a location without making sure every person in my car had a seatbelt. I was a trusted driver, and everyone in my car that day trusted me. And I knew that. And I would never put something like that to risk, and I am not being selfish. I am being serious. I would never risk losing my friends. No matter the circumstances. I cannot begin to express how sorry I am to the Twomeys and the Markhams. I never intended hurt or emotional pain. And I can’t imagine how they feel. No one should have to bury their child. I also cannot express my greatest gratitude towards the Markhams in all of this. They have been extremely supportive and a great shoulder to cry on in all of this. They are, in a way, my silver lining. I love them to death, and I could not ask for anything better than their support. Also, to Jaymee. I am greatly and deeply sorry for the pain I have caused her. And the injuries that caused to our relationship. I am sorry it fell apart. And I wish there was something I could do to help that. Even Courtney Jokiel. I cannot imagine the fear and pain she has gone through. I know that it cannot be an easy thing to even think about, and in all of this, I have prayed for her a lot, for her to be emotionally and even physically healed from this traumatic circumstance. Even without memory of this accident, I do accept responsibility for my actions. I struggle to come to grips with it, but even at that. I still do. I acted out of character and I am paying for that. With that being said, I also accept punishment. Acting out of character had dire consequences and took 2 lives, so whatever happens, happens. And I do accept that. Words cannot describe what this has done to me, either. Two of my best friends were ripped out from underneath me. And another friend was hurt as a result of something that I did. I’m losing friend as a result of the accident and frequently the brunt of a lot of harassment involving the loss of Hannah and Jimbo. But it’s not all bad, the impact this has had. I’ve gained some of the strongest relationships I’ve ever had in my life. People showed their true colors, and some of them were the most supportive people anyone could ask for. I have the best family, friends, boyfriend, the best support system to help me get through this. And my relationship with God has grown as well as the result of many long hours and nights of prayer. I will wake up at 2 in the morning bawling my eyes out and mom and dad will have to comfort me and tell me that I will make it through this. And that God will do what he has planned and it will be good. With all of that being said, I just hope everyone can see what I feel daily, and that the judge do what he feels is the right thing to do in the situation.”
After heartfelt words, tears, and a long struggle, the Judge came to a decision. He said that it was a case he had become very attached to, and if he didn’t have to punish me, he wouldn’t. But “the community needs to know that you cannot just act out of character and not pay for your actions”. So, I was sentenced to a class G felony, homicide due to negligent use of a motor vehicle. The punishment was 120 days of incarceration, 4 years’ probation, with 300 hours of community service, and a 12 month suspension of my license. Considering the maximum sentence of something like this, I got off pretty easy. My jail time was granted Huber, which meant that I could leave to go to work/school, but come back at the end of the day. My jail time was to start 60 days after sentencing. I found a job, enrolled in school, and started my sentence on June 23rd, 2009 and got out October 21st, 2009.
Here comes some craziness. I took part in a bible study in jail. It was one of the only ways I kept sane. It was me, a leader, and one other lady in my “pod”. One day, we got to share our stories. I shared what I just shared with you, and it turns out that the leader of the group had received a prayer chain request not but a year earlier for me. She never thought she’d meet me face to face, but God has a funny way of working in your life and bringing people into it that can change you, or change them. We prayed, cried, and shared stories. Every week, it was something I looked forward to. Talking about God, and just letting go.
I am 23 years old today. In August, it will be 5 years since this all happened. I still struggle, I still have problems. But what helps me is sharing. I don’t know why I am still here, and I don’t know what I’m meant for. I can’t help but shake the feeling I get when I hear teenagers come up to me after telling my story and tell me how they felt, how it’s changed them. That makes me feel good. And that’s why I think I’m meant to tell this story.
If you stuck through this all, congrats. I really appreciate you taking some time to read what I have been through.
I don’t know why I’m here still. I’m working on figuring that out. But, I have God, and I just have to let go, and let God.