Speaker shares tragic tale with Penticton students

ICBC road safety message hits home with students about to enter into grad season

John Westhaver

John Westhaver

Suffering burns to 75 per cent of his body and 40 surgeries later, John Westhaver shared his story of making choices to Princess Margaret Secondary school choices.

It was almost 20 years ago that Westhaver and his friends were in a car crash that only he walked away from. Dealing with injuries that have physically changed him was not the worst of it.

“I know what it is like to wake up from a coma, realizing you’re now a burn survivor and you’ll never look the same again, then finding out your friends are killed and never being able to say goodbye,” said Westhaver. “I know what that is like and I don’t wish this upon anybody.”

Westhaver was an 18-year-old high school student in New Brunswick hanging out with friends when the driver, who was speeding, lost control of the vehicle which resulted in a fiery crash. He told the intently listening crowd of Grade 11 and 12 students last week at Maggie that it took two-and-a-half months before he left the hospital, having to still deal with the prospect of many surgeries and rehab ahead. He now chooses to share his message of choices through the ICBC road safety speakers series.

“I want kids to think about their choices and the consequences of their choices. I hope they have the strength and courage to speak up and make the right choice in life no matter how hard it can be,” said Westhaver.

On average, 240 youth are injured and three are killed in crashes during April, May and June every year in the Southern interior, according to ICBC. Car crashes remain the No. 1 preventable cause of death for youth in B.C.

“I want you to tell your friends how much you value their friendship and how important they are in your life,” Westhaver told the students. “Really tell them. I want you to do yourself a favour, I want you to do whatever you need to do to help them make wise choices in life. Don’t let your friends die the way mine did.”

Haley Lamont, a Grade 11 student, said as a new driver the message hit home with her.

I thought it was very moving and definitely an eye-opener,” said Lamont. “The fact that they were sober and the accident still happened. It reminds me to take everything into consideration as a driver, and just because I am young doesn’t mean I am invincible.”

Tyler Trupp was so moved by the presentation, he came off the bleachers after it was over to shake Westhaver’s hand. He said as students head into grad and prom party season, it is a stern reminder to always have a sober driver.

“I thought this was great. I think it is good for young people to learn about, especially when they think it is fun to drink and drive and fool around,” said Trupp. “They get to learn from this real-life experience. He showed us what bad choices can do to you and your life. It made me think about what I should be aware of and to always have a sober driver.”