Bowie High School friends Rachael Crawford, Madison Brandes, Ashley Rogans, and Julia Cavanagh survived a catastrophic car crash caused by a drunk driver on June 22, 2014 in South Austin. In the five years since the accident, the four girls have slowly recovered through painstaking therapies. They have been working hard to achieve their dreams of going to college and beginning their careers. But the tragedy of that night lingers. As a way to find hope and purpose, Rachael teamed up with her father, Tom Crawford, to tell their family’s story of healing to high school students across Texas.
RC: I actually don’t have much memory of the day. I don’t remember leaving work that evening. I don’t remember going to my friend Madison’s house, picking all of them up, changing, talking to her parents, going to the bank. We went to Slaughter and MoPac and I don’t remember being at the light. I have no memory of getting hit. My brain blocked all of that out. The next thing I remember is waking up after surgery the next day. I didn’t remember anything, and I had to be told what was happening.
AF: Tom, can you tell me when you learned about what happened to Rachael and her friends?
TC: We were actually at a swim team event. It was kind of ironic because we were getting ready to do an award presentation when a bunch of paramedics and fire trucks went by. It was really loud. We had to wait until they passed by and we didn’t really think anything of it. We came home with my son and were getting ready to watch some shows. We got that phone call that no parent wants to get. Madison’s dad called us saying the girls were in an accident and we need to get to the hospital. He couldn’t tell us anything about Rachael. We pretty much panicked and grabbed our son, got in the car. We passed the intersection where it happened and saw all the cars and debris. My wife was in tears and panicking because when they shut down an intersection, that usually means somebody has died. Then we got a call from the hospital. They said Rachael was in the ER in critical condition, but alive. We got to the hospital and saw her in the emergency room, and it was very, very bad. That was harrowing and horrible.
AF: What did the police tell you about what happened?
TC: They gave me information in pieces. We learned that the driver had run the red light. We learned later that he was speeding through the intersection at about 70 or 80 miles an hour. Then we learned that he’d hit another car. But a couple of days later, we found out from detectives that it was definitely a drunk driving incident.
AF: When you learned that drunk driving was the cause of this, what did you feel?
TC: Anger. Anger was probably the first reaction. Trying to understand why somebody would be so selfish as to get so drunk. I mean, this person was over 0.3 BAC. The legal limit is 0.08. I was hurt and just trying to understand why somebody would do this. I found out this was something that had occurred before but did not result in a DWI. But he was arrested for this and he’s in prison now.
AF: As a result of this horrible experience, the two of you decided to tell your story to help teens and parents. Why did you decide to speak out?
RC: A couple of months after my accident, someone I was really close with in middle school texted me and said, “I haven’t driven drunk since your accident.” I thought that was amazing. If what I went through could change someone’s mindset and save a life, it’s so awesome.
The first time we spoke at a high school, it was all four of us. Me and my friends. My thought was, “Oh, these kids aren’t going to care.” But we had kids coming up to us afterwards and they shook our hands like we were adults— and it was so cool. I think someone my age is going to get to the students more than someone who is a lot older, or a police officer. You can hear about how much it costs to get a DWI and how much jail time you’ll get. But to hear about how it’s personally affected someone’s life, who was their age when this happened— that’s what I think is different about me and my dad speaking to students.
AF: Tom, what has been the reaction of audiences to your story from a parent’s perspective?
TC: The parents who come to the presentations can relate. Rachael and I came to an epiphany at the same time. I started thinking about doing presentations when, every time we would go to the courthouse, a Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) person would be there with us. I ended up talking to the director of MADD, and we’re now friends. He’s the one who encouraged me to start going to high schools with Rachael on our own. And the reaction from the staff and the parents has just been phenomenal. I think it’s more to Rachael ‘s side than my side. But the staff and parents are thrilled that we’re able to tell our story from both points of view. They’re hearing from the kid who actually got hit by a drunk driver, and then the parent who got the phone call. That’s a powerful combination of perspectives in one presentation.
AF: Rachael, what have been some of the physical effects of this experience on you and your friends?
RC: Some days are better than others. I would like to say that I haven’t had pain in my legs for probably a month, but it randomly happens. I have days when my leg is just killing me because I have damage to my S1 nerve. I had surgery two years ago to fix the problem that I was having with my nerve in my back. It worked. I had been in pain every single day for three years. Now it’s about once a month. I am so blessed that I’m not in pain every day anymore.
Madison had a brain injury. She just graduated from Texas Tech and she is doing her pre-required courses for occupational therapy school. Because of the accident she wanted to go into occupational therapy. She struggles with school and remembering things. It’s hard for her. But she gets help from Texas Tech. Ashley had a broken vertebra in her neck, but she is doing well. Like me, she has random days when her neck will hurt and cause tingling in her arm. Julia just graduated from Texas Tech also and she’s doing well. She had no physical injuries besides some cuts— a deep cut in her leg. But she remembers everything from the accident. She’s the only one that remembers getting hit. Madison doesn’t remember anything. Ashley remembers getting pulled out of the car. We’re all doing well. We still stick by each other, which has been great. We have a bond that no one else has. We’re all alive, thank God.
STAYING SAFE THIS HOLIDAY SEASON
Rachael Crawford and Tom Crawford have some advice for teens and parents about making sober choices this holiday season.
- Drive Defensively: Even if you’re not drinking and driving, other people may be— especially around the holidays. Teach your kids to be aware of the road at all times.
- Set Up Ride Share Accounts: We set up our Uber and Lyft accounts with our credit card. The kids would never have to worry about having enough money to get a ride. We also authorized them to use the card for friends if necessary.
- Build Your Parent Network: Get to know the other parents in your child’s friend group. Make sure they know that any kid can call any parent, at any time, for any reason.
- Have a Ride Plan: The reality is that high school students do drink during the holidays. Talk about drinking and driving with your friends that includes plans for getting home. With Uber, Lyft, and other ride share companies, there’s no excuse to drink and drive.
- Don’t Be Afraid to Confront a Friend: Give them options if they’ve had too much to drink. Offer to pay for their ride share, call their parents or another adult to pick them up, or drive her home yourself if you are 100% sober.
- Get a Code Phrase: My parents gave me a code phrase in case I needed to call them to pick me up, but I didn’t want people to know. They had a “no questions asked” policy which I really appreciated.
For more information about MADD, visit www.madd.org/texas.
By Jennifer Hill Robenalt