I Wish I Knew Speed Had Consequences

Thoughts about being behind the wheel and reckless driving.

According to the Illinois High School and College Driver Education Association, In 2013, every 52 minutes a fatality occurred in the United States due to reckless driving. Essentially, that is 11,896 people killed behind the wheel either because of reckless driving or because they became a victim of someone else’s reckless behavior.

The IHSCDEA reported that of those 11, 896, 46 percent of the perished victims were under the influence of alcohol while operating the vehicle.

Reckless driving is nothing short of a serious matter and the consequence is often fatal.

Not only does reckless driving put the life of the driver in danger, but it puts every single pedestrian, passing car and surrounding individual in danger as well. Reckless driving is more than just a caution, it is a threat to all those involved.

Reckless driving is more than just a DUI. The consequences can be endless. When choosing to get behind the wheel of a vehicle intoxicated, one is also choosing to put themselves at risk for possible jail time, a possible $2,500 fine, required driving school and, above all, convicted of a Class A Misdemeanor.

The biggest consequence of all? Letting life slip away because of simply a wrong decision.

In Illinois, state police reported reckless driving as the single largest call for service in Chicago. This is no surprise considering that out of all car accidents, one-third of them are due to a reckless driver.

The consequences will leave any guilty driver remorseful; however, some cannot be fixed and will remain for the rest of his/her life. Taking the life of another person is a risk that most are unknowingly taking while driving under the influence.

The families of these victims are victims as well. A wrong choice can take the life of someone’s loved one at any moment. One would never imagine reckless driving to be a major cause of death in their own little town, but they would be very mistaken.

2013 was a devastating year for Antioch to say the least. Within such a short time, there was great loss. Three students lost their lives that year and two of those students lost their lives due to reckless driving.

Three lives that can never be taken back, but will never be forgotten.

On February 18, 2013, one of ACHS’s own was a victim of reckless driving. A son, a brother, a boyfriend, a student, an athlete, an unforgettable person was taken much too soon from those who loved him most.

Split seconds determined life and death of an innocent person and a major loss in so many people’s lives.

Joel Wittkamp and girlfriend Ashley Seay, both 16 at the time, lost control and veered into a tree going 94 mph because of black ice, sending them into a second tree that took their lives. Wittkamp and Seay suffered multiple traumatic injuries and passed away within seconds. Following the collision, Wittkamp’s absence in the halls and the town was felt immediately.

This tragedy still remains in the minds and hearts of every person Wittkamp touched.

For his mother, Sarah Wittkamp, Joel’s death took a piece of her heart that will always be missing, but she continues to honor his life every single day.

Three years later the void has only been filled with God’s grace and hope.

Three years later the memories are still vivid.

Three years later it still seems like yesterday.

“9:30 rolls around and I started to freak out,” Sarah said. “I told my husband that something was really wrong.”

A Facebook post from a friend sending prayers to those involved in a car accident on Wilmot Road caught Sarah’s eye that night. In fact, she could not get it out of her head and prayed that her son was anywhere but involved in the accident.

Unanswered texts left her trembling with anxiety and fear as any mother would.

“It was like I felt like I was going to throw up,” she said. “I absolutely knew something was wrong, and I knew it was him.”

Sarah then called the police station in hopes of finding out who was involved in this fatal crash or any details that could ease her mind, and still no answers.

“I sat in my rocking chair and waited, and all of a sudden I saw a car pull up,” she said.

An unmarked police car and an Antioch police car pulled into the driveway. She hoped that Joel was about to walk out of the car with the police officer, but the officer stood alone on the doorstep and knocked until there was an answer.

“I tried to tell myself everything was okay, but I knew what was coming,” Sarah said.

Immediately Sarah yelled to her husband in the next room and he flew to the door. He was filled with anger and disbelief. He yelled for the police officer and coroner to leave, as if they did he would not have to listen to what was coming next. It would not be real.

The officer informed them that Joel had been in an accident. The roads were filled with black ice. Even an ambulance attending the scene slid off the road due to the ice.

Confused and in denial, Sarah asked, “Well where is he?”

In her head, it wasn’t reality. He had to have been in a hospital bed somewhere being worked on by doctors.

The only response she received back from the officer was, “I’m really sorry.”

“I felt like God took me out of my body so that I wouldn’t have to experience a pain that would surely kill me, and that, that began the journey with life without Joel,” she said.

The next day, Sarah stepped on the scene of the accident. Immediately a hole in her heart appeared that was sure to never fully recover.

“It was so surreal and unnatural,” Sarah said. “As a parent you don’t want to ever believe that your kid is going to die.”

The wreckage was unbelievable. Debris lined the road for days afterward, Sarah explained.

“It was like a dream manifested broken on a cold hard ground,” she said. “It was so tragic.”

This brought about a newly found hope that would only grow. Joel may be gone, but his family’s love for him surely never will be.

“I know Joel thought he was being cool, but fast is not cool. Fast is dead,” she said.

She knew he thought he had control, but control nevertheless is disregarded when rules are broken. Ignorance led to an invincible feeling that he was going to be okay in the end.

Driving is an obstacle and a test. A test of deviance and responsibility. Speed limits are in place to protect drivers and pedestrians. The limit is so much larger than what it seems. Breaking these limits opens up opportunity for disaster in almost any circumstance.

There is no control when it seems like you versus the world and every tree that lines the pavement passes by as a blur.

After the accident, Joel’s family was broken to say the very least. It began an experience of learning how to walk, talk and live again without a huge piece of their life.

“Every day since that day has been the work of believing and having hope that anchors us,” Sarah said.

Joel’s close friend Lexy Vetter, a 2014 alumna, said, “Losing Joel has impacted every single thing I do. Every day I am reminded of him and the fact that he will never be able to go to college or work like I am now, so I remember to do absolutely everything the best I can because I am lucky enough to be living this life.”

When one is forced to believe something because it did happen, it exposes the rawness and the realness of the value of life. No one is promised tomorrow.

“After Joel’s funeral I hung his funeral card around my rearview mirror to always remind me to drive as safely as possible,” Vetter said. “It’s so easy to drive too fast or text and drive, but I hope everyone realizes how selfish it is. You’re taking the chance of putting your friends and family through the worst pain ever imaginable.”

For Vetter, she had one last piece of advice: while driving, drive with regard to life. Do not be selfish with the sacred life that you hold in your hands when behind the wheel.