Speaker shares horror of road carnage
He asked them: Why would you put yourself, your friends and your relatives in danger by driving carelessly? Why would you risk hurting someone and opening up your parents to a lawsuit that could bankrupt them?
It’s really, really easy to drive badly, he said, so why would you celebrate someone who shows off by speeding or otherwise screwing around at the wheel?
Students — including eighth-graders who walked over from Patton Middle School — paid close attention to Presnell, partly because he’s young, cute and funny, but primarily because they were riveted by his first-hand experience with bad driving.
When he was 14, he hopped into a car driven by a friend a few years older. Their joy ride ended abruptly with the car wrapped around a utility pole and Presnell critically injured.
He suffered a traumatic brain injury that still affects his memory, along with shattered bones that had to be replaced with parts made of a titanium alloy and other injuries. The damage left him with a collective 17 feet of scars.
Fourteen years, 22 surgeries and a whole lot of pain later, Presnell regularly tells his story — he has to tell it regularly, he jokes, because otherwise he’d forget it — in an effort to warn others against suffering the same fate.
He calls his presentation, and his recent memoir, “Respect the Journey.”
We spend more time thinking about the future, and what we want out of it, than what we’re doing now, he said.
“We can’t wait to get out of school; we can’t wait for that weekend party,” he said. “We can’t wait to get our driver license; we don’t want to (take the time to) learn to drive safely.”
Presnell urged students to focus on the present, appreciating their friends and the things they have. “Life is so beautiful when you respect it all,” he said.
Being respectful will show in your driving, he said. You won’t need to show off or cut people off or prove that the road belongs to you.
Presnell, who walks with a visible limp and finds it difficult to stand in one spot for long, described the crash that left him permanently injured this way:
“Car out of control ... life flashing before your eyes ... just screaming ... metal bends, glass shatters ... screaming ... then silence, except for the engine trying to run ... try to move ... can’t ... try to breathe ... crying ... sirens ....”
Teens often think it can’t happen to them, he said, which can be dangerous. It can lead them to take risks or let their attention lapse.
“It’s real,” he said. “You need to be afraid of it. This can happen to anyone, anytime.
“Don’t take life for granted,” he said, like he did.
Today, Presnell said, he takes nothing for granted. And he’s happy, despite his physical problems and brain injury, because he looks at the positives instead of the negatives.
“My right leg is paralyzed,” he said. “But hey, my left leg isn’t!”
He said he loves people. That’s why he tries to help them by speaking out.
He encourages them to start by showing love and respect for themselves. If you respect yourself, you won’t need someone else’s approval so much that you’ll get in the car with an unsafe driver.
If you respect others, you won’t do things that can hurt them, like driving unsafely. And you’ll reach out to people — real people, not just to friends you collect online.
Presnell said, “Every one of us has a story. We need to get to know each other.”
AAA of Oregon and Idaho sponsored Presnell’s visit as part of the organization’s “AAA Tyler World Tour.”