Small group hears consequences of substance abuse

Jared Estes describes how his life changed after a drunken driver killed his wife in a car accident nine years ago. Estes spoke to a group of around 40 people who gathered for the county-wide town hall meeting last Tuesday. The event was sponsored by the Marion County Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition in collaborating with the school districts and local communities.Jared Estes of Andover spoke in Marion Tuesday about the physical, emotional and mental pain he suffered when a drunk driver turned his world upside down nine years earlier.

Left to deal with burns over 50 percent of his body from the car crash, the emotional pain of losing his wife and the mental anguish in making sense of it all, he continues to put his life back together.

?I have realized in the last few years that all of us are in the same boat,? he said. ?We all have loss and pain and tragedy in our lives.

?It?s not unique to me by any means, but it seems like if we all come together and help each other through it, the strength that you can see on the other side is amazing.?

Jared also said he wasn?t in Marion to give advice to students.

?The best advice you will ever hear is from (police) officers, and your family, friends and teachers,? he said.

?I have my story, and I will elaborate on what carried me through it, and what is happening today.?

What happened

About six months after Jared married his wife Paige, the couple attended a Wichita Thunder hockey game.

After the game, Paige was driving her car, Jared was in the passenger seat and two friends, Danae and Dalene, were in the back.

?It was weird,? he said. ?I remember laughing and then everything going completely black in my head. Sort of like hearing the noise of a TV set turning off.?

He said he heard the beginning of an explosion as if it were starting and then was cut off.

?Then I was in a dream?in complete darkness. I felt like I was in one of those dreams trying to punch something, trying to move, but my body wasn?t reacting the way it should,? he said. ?Then I lost all concept of space and time.?

A man, later identified as Louis Kebert, who was 44 years old at the time, had sped up a Porsche to 100 mph, then 110 mph until he got to 150 mph on Kellogg Avenue.

?We were in this little dip at about Kellogg and Westview when he hit us from behind at that speed,? Jared said.

?Immediately, the car exploded and both Kebert and his passenger were ejected through the front windshield.?

As for Jared and Paige?s vehicle, after being rammed it spun so hard it hit the median, reeled backward and Danae was ejected through the rear window across four lanes of Kellogg into oncoming traffic on the other side.

?(Danae) had road rash, broke both hips, but you wouldn?t even know today she was in an accident,? Jared said.

The other friend, Dalene, didn?t realize Danae had been ejected because the car was so full of flames and smoke.

?Dalene reached through the flames to grab Danae and couldn?t find her,? Jared said. ?It got so hot where the trunk would have been that Dalene ended up having four fingers amputated trying to reach for Danae.?

As for Jared, he said he was still in a ?black zone? in his head.

The person who saved him, who Jared calls his hero, was the first on the scene.

?He pulled over, got out and came to the car. He kicked out the window and pulled me out while I was still on fire,? he said.

?When I woke up, came to, I was standing on my feet?standing and facing the guy who just pulled me out.?

As he was talking to Jared, he said he felt an intense pain creeping up his right side and back.

?I still don?t know where I am or what is happening until I saw my friend Dalene at the median,? he said. ?Both of her hands were badly burned, her hair was smoking and she had a glazed-over distant look like shock.?

At that moment, Jared said he realized they had been at the game and must have been in a bad accident.

He said he felt fear, pain and the unknown at levels he had never felt before and all at the same time.

?I asked if she was OK and she said, ?no.?

?I asked about Paige and Danae and she didn?t know. I asked if it were a dream, but it sounded like a stranger?s voice coming out of my mouth,? he said. ?I saw two bodies laying in the road.?

As he began to walk up the road, a lot of people tried to stop him.

??Did everyone get out?? I asked, but nobody would look into my eyes,? he said. ?Three of the guys from the fire department were trying to force me in the spinal board, but I kept yelling for Paige.

?Finally, one of the EMS guys said everyone got out. He lied to me, but it probably saved my life.?

Once at the hospital, Jared said he went into a coma for the next two weeks.

When he came out of the coma, Jared said he started to remember the accident, what had happened and why he was in the burn center.

?The day I put two and two together, there were a lot of people in my room standing over my bed.

?These were people I knew and loved my whole life and they looked like strangers to me,? he said.

It was something about the look in their eyes, Jared said.

?I knew the situation was bad before I knew what it was,? he said. ?Please send Paige in. I need to talk with her.?

After his dad asked everyone to leave, he told Jared that Paige had died.

?Anyone who has ever lost someone they loved and gets the news they are no longer on this Earth anymore is like something being scooped out of your insides.

?The one voice that can make everything OK, you will never hear again,? Jared said.

?Laying there, I closed my eyes and prayed God would let me die. It was not a hopeful ?throw it to the wind? type of prayer, it was like I honestly believed God would take me because I had no reason to be here.?

Bracing for the end, Jared said he closed his eyes five times, but nothing happened.

?Every time (I tried) I was more beaten and more down. It was my darkest moment and the realization of my life without Paige,? he said.

When he knew he wasn?t going to die that day, Jared said he made a commitment to himself to visit Paige?s grave.

?I never had a chance to grieve,? he said. ?I stuffed it down and needed to get through the hospital until I could go to the cemetery and there I would let it all out.?

He said he always pictured himself kneeling down, grabbing piles of dirt and slamming it on the ground and yelling at the sky.

?But when I got there, I realized I couldn?t kneel because I was physically incapable,? he said.

?I had to sit in a lawn chair and both hands were in splints so I couldn?t grab anything.

?On top of all that, I just had surgery to fix my right eye and it was swollen shut making it hard to cry. I was just a mess.?

Frustrated, Jared said he couldn?t even keep that promise to himself.

?This was my ultimate goal and I didn?t have any after that. I started wallowing in that and how much better it would be for my family and friends if I were to die,? he said. ?How much easier their lives would be.?

In fact, he started taking on an attitude of: ?Whatever doesn?t kill you only makes you wish you were dead.?

After seeing his wife?s younger brother and sister, though, Jared said he realized how selfish his thoughts were.

?I was thinking only of myself,? he said. ?It was at that point I decided I was going to come back from this and I was going to be happy again.?

With a new focus and new goals, Jared persevered.

Ripple effect

One thing that bothered Jared a lot the first time he went to the cemetery was the selfishness.

?I was about to make a decision that it was all about me without thinking about anybody else,? he said. ?And it was going to affect (my family and friends) more than me.?

Consequently, when Jared left the courtroom following Kebert?s sentencing hearing, he said he was no longer angry.

?I had much more compassion toward (Kebert?s) family, so my anger had definitely spun more into compassion for them for what they have been through,? he said.

?I had seen the ripple effect of what this had done to my family, Paige?s family and all our friends and that full circle. But, I had never seen the ripple effect of what it did on (Kebert?s side) and seeing the mass impact of this guy?s decisions was amazing, sad and eye-opening.?

Sometimes when life knocks us down, he said, it doesn?t seem like it is enough to get back up.

?I think it?s important to get back up and take some swings back and start kicking back a little bit,? he said.

Being able to speak with students in Marion and Peabody, Jared added, has meant a lot to him.

?I feel like this is a swing back I can take in sharing Paige?s memory and what I have been through.?

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