Sunday, February 26, 2017
Today I sit in a prison cell a broken man. A man that wishes every waking minute of every day that I could go back to May 26, 2016, and make a different choice. The choice I made to drink and get behind the wheel of a car with my best friend by my side forever will be my biggest regret. The guilt that I carry on my shoulders knowing that my actions took his life weighs heavy on my heart and is something I forever will carry.
Casey and I were always together and he was always there for me. He loved life and lived it to the fullest every day.  He showed me how not to worry about the small things that most of us spend too much time and energy on and to always look for the good in people.  He never met a stranger he wouldn’t help, and he loved his friends and most especially his family.  We had a band of brothers who all hung out together, and our motto was “Never leave a brother behind.” Casey always had my back and he knew I always had his, but I never thought that our motto would mean so much to me and that those simple words would lead me on a journey of healing and redemption.  The knowledge that I didn’t leave my best friend to die in that field alone and did everything in my power to try to save his life is the one thing that gives me peace in the midst of tragedy.
On the night of May 25, 2016, Casey and I went to a high school graduation party, with close to 50 kids from all over the area in attendance.  Beer was packed in coolers in the back of the homeowners’ truck and we were told we could drink as much as we wanted.  Casey and I had graduated from high school two years prior and recently had returned home from college. We didn’t know a lot of the kids in attendance, so we hung out together, enjoying the party from the sidelines. Party goers asked us to bring a car with a loud stereo system so I drove a jeep out that had a great sound system and Casey drove my pickup.  We spent the evening playing a lot of country music. Around 1:00 AM, we decided to call it quits since we both had to work the next day so Casey drove my pickup home and I drove the jeep. After arriving home, we realized that Casey had left his phone at the party, so we both jumped into the jeep and headed back out to retrieve it.  As we were getting in the jeep to leave, someone from the party yelled, “Do a donut!” So I did.
After the jeep tipped I didn’t realize at first that Casey was pinned under the roll bar as he was thrown from his seat as he never fastened his seatbelt and he was sitting on the windowsill.  I was stuck in my seatbelt, hanging sideways, and couldn’t get out. I was yelling for help when I glanced down and only saw Casey's legs. The kids from the bonfire rushed over and together managed to pick up the jeep and put it back on all four tires. No doubt panicked at the sight, they all ran off, leaving me to help Casey alone. It was me and my best friend in a field all alone at nearly 2:00 AM in the morning.  I dialed 911 and began to follow the instructions of the emergency operator when the phone went dead. Tamping down a growing sense of panic, I called my mom, who is an medic and happened to be on duty that night, and told her to hurry. The phone disconnected again. We were in a field where the cell reception was bad and I couldn’t get a good signal to call back. I just followed the 911 dispatcher’s instructions to perform CPR, waiting for help to arrive.
When my mom arrived on scene, she kept asking me if I was okay as I was covered in the blood of my best friend. Her partner took over chest compressions, and exhausted, I sat beside her.  At the time, I didn’t realize that I had been performing CPR on my best friend for nine minutes with no relief or help. I sat beside them, crying, and I knew my mom was doing everything she could to try and save him.  I remember seeing tears running down her face as she worked to put a tube down in his throat to help him breathe. Casey was in the best of hands as my mom is a great medic and would do everything she could to save his life.  My mom loved Casey as if he were her own, and I could see the hurt and pain etched on her face as she struggled to save his life. Casey was hooked up to machines and my mom, her partner and Samaritan Life Flight were doing everything they could to save his life.  After a few minutes, the frustration and sadness on my mom’s face told me all I needed to know.  Moments later she came over and hugged me, kissed my forehead, and told me that my best friend in the whole world was gone. In that moment, I thought about Casey's family and how disappointed they were going to be with me.  I completely fell apart, hitting my head on the ground and yelling, “I’m so sorry Casey! I’m so sorry!”
In the early morning hours, I sat there in shock as police officers arrived at the scene, asking me if I was ok and wanting to know what happened. I answered all their questions about the events of the night, admitting that I had been drinking prior to the accident.  I told them that I was doing donuts in the field when the jeep tipped.  Knowing I owed it to Casey to tell the truth, I hid nothing from investigators. Eventually, I was arrested for OWI causing death as I had a blood alcohol level of .085.  The legal limit in Indiana is .08, but since I was under age, there was no legal limit to drinking and driving.  I decided to plead guilty, taking full responsibility for my actions, and was sentenced to serve time in a Department of Corrections facility. 
Now, I spend my days praying for Casey's parents who have stood by me, never blaming me for the accident that caused my best friends death. Having their love and support is helping me heal and hopefully, one day, I can move forward with my life.  I also pray for my parents, especially my mom, who emotionally has suffered over this accident and the fact that she couldn’t save Casey's life. “Never leaving a brother behind” is not just a motto for our band of brothers anymore.  Since Casey's death, it has taken on a new and deeper meaning. It has become a way of life.  I never once had any intention of taking off with those kids that night and abandoning Casey to die in that field alone.  I pray he is looking down from Heaven and knows that I had the chance to leave him and I didn’t.  I stayed and fought for his life and kept my promise that I would never leave him behind.



14 comments:

  1. God bless you, JJ.

    I was the victim of a drunk driving incident by an underage drunk driver. I wish he had been as responsible in owning up to his mistake.

    I'm praying for you, your family, as well as for Casey's family.

    Hugs and prayers...

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  2. I know you pay a price every time you tell your story. Your reward will come from the lives that will be saved from hearing this story. Your friend lives through this and neither of you have "left a brother behind". God bless you.

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  3. you give a gift with this retelling of such a tragic event. A gift that has the potential to save a life. Thank you. I pray for your healing and for the healing of Casey's family and loved ones.

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  4. most of us in this world have gotten behind the wheel under the influence, let this be a lesson to all, life is precious so be careful with it and don't drive drunk

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  5. Best of luck in your future endeavors. You have learned a very valuable lesson the hardest way possible. I am sure that with the lesson learned you will help many others and your friend will be a great help to you. God bless you for your honesty.

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  6. So many of us have been underage and behind the wheel while under the influence. I have, regrettably, many times. The only difference is some of us pay a price, some do not. I don't understand why. It's not fair. But just know that you are no different than anyone else who's done it. The important thing is we learn, we pick ourselves up, and we try to move on in life. God has a perfect plan for your story and He will use it well. God bless.

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  7. Dear JJ
    I don't know if or when you may be able to read this but I pray that your heart and mind will be in a position to fully understand. To understand with mind body and soul the love that you have demonstrated to your friend and the love of others for you. I am fairly certain that the recent and tragic events weigh heavily, as guilt and shame are powerful enemies of the soul. This duo are skilled in clouding our minds, preventing us from peace and love; especially the abilities to love ourselves. To be confident that the one true God that spoke the universe into existence, that has ransomed your life at a dear price and now holds you in grace. There has never been a time in history or a situation too dark that he could not turn to profit. You and I may never see the full arch of his plan but trust that he does. I beg you to reflect on the proposition that it is never about where a man finds himself or with the speed he travels this life but in the direction he chooses to go. Will guilt and shame prevent you from redemption? God forbid it! 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
    6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. ---Phillipians 4:6-7. If you have no enemy within you than no enemy can hurt you. You will grieve, as you should, but know that you did all in your power to save and a friend can ask for no more. You are the called blameless and the righteous child of the King. Rest easy in that promise. Seek your calling in the seasons of your life but never be tempted to redeem yourself in work or other acts, as noble as they may be. I hope that in some small way my meager thoughts bring you or any other person toward a place of peace and hope.

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    1. Darian Leigh LewisMarch 9, 2017 at 12:03 PM

      The most beautiful, peaceful comment anyone could have posted. I have faith that JJ will see or hear this one day, as his momma may be able to repeat it to him.

      I did not see a name here, but God bless your sweet, sweet soul. You truly just touched my heart in way you can not even fathom. I'll be praying for you, as well as JJ and Casey's family.

      As for JJ, I can not say any more than this amazing comment already says. I'll be praying for you, bud. I'll also live by your motto, until the day I die. God bless you, young man.

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  8. Your and Casey's story will be the influence of many young people, who need to hear this story. A talk, that needs to be told in schools, and at churches and anywhere that you can touch our young people. Casey failed to use his seat belt, and it is not your fault. Casey would be the first to tell you so. You need to forgive your self, Casey has. God's love will help you move on. My prayers are with you and your family and with Casey's. God Bless you for doing the right thing.

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  9. This story made me cry.keep telling ur story it will save other young children in ur situation.u ur family and Casey's family will always be in my thoughts and prayers

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  10. God bless you! My husband was in almost the same situation only 13 years ago and he wasn't drinking but he was the driver in an accident that caused the death of his best friend! It took him a long time to get past it and still to this day he isn't 100% but he to had the support of his friends family. We now have 4 kids of our own and are doing great!! Just keep looking to God and he will help you through this tough time!!!

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  11. May God bring healing to you and all of the families involved. I have a brother in prison right now serving 10 years for being the driver of his vehicle that he crashed while under the influence and killed 2 people in his car. It has changed his life and the lives of so many others. But he has realized God still has a plan for him and he vows from this day forward to use what he has gone thru to help others. Remember that we are all here for a greater purpose and to live each day here on out for Him. God bless you!

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  12. My son was the victim of a drunk driver. He is paralyzed and on a vent. You are an inspiration.its been almost 6 years and she still refuses to even say she's sorry. My son knew her he thought she was a friend. I am praying for you and your families. God Bless you.

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  13. JJ , Monica & families, this story has already touched many and I am sure it will continue to touch many more. You all are an inspiration of honesty & Grace❤️

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