Sometimes it’s hard to find any good that can come out of such senseless tragedies as the one John Westhaver endured, but he is on a mission to make sure younger generations don’t make the same mistakes he did.
Westhaver, who is a contract speaker being sponsored by ICBC, spoke to Grade 11 and 12 students at Charles Hays Secondary School (CHSS) on March 28 in the first stop of his north-central B.C. tour of high schools. His message was all about choices.
“I hope that going through a day like this and hearing me share about my story helps you make the right choice when it comes to crunch time, when your life or the life of someone else could be on the line. Let’s face it, that’s pretty much every time you get into a vehicle,” he told a somber group of students, some of who stayed after his presentation to ask him questions and thank him for sharing his story.
April 29, 1994 is a day forever etched into Westhaver’s mind and he shared his tragic experience with students.
“In 1994, I was involved in a fatal car crash that took the lives of three of my friends and left me with burns to 75 per cent of my body. I know what happens, what suffering accompanies these fatal crashes and I’m standing that they stop happening,” he said after the presentation.
His carefree life was thrown out the window just six weeks before his high school graduation when the driver of the car he was in was speeding and lost control of the vehicle, causing the car to crash into a telephone pole and burst into flames immediately. Only Westhaver survived, and in 2002, he made the decision to start speaking about his experience and help whoever he can.
“I’m here sharing my story on road safety with the students that they get what they need to make better choices in vehicles. If they are in a vehicle and their friend is driving too fast, that they get the courage to speak up and tell their friends to slow down,” Westhaver explained.
His talk is chilling and incredibly sobering, but it’s so important, he said.
“My talk could be the talk that they needed to hear today and that’s going to help them make better choices in vehicles. If they’re going to go out and they’re going to party and do these things, maybe my talk is the one that alters the way they make choices so they’re not actually putting themselves or others in danger,” he said.
Prince Rupert is the first stop on his tour. From there, he went to Terrace, Kitimat, Hazelton, Smithers, Houston and continuing east until McBride, then ending with a couple schools in Haida Gwaii on April 27.
ICBC sponsors speakers on road safety because on average, six youth aged 16 to 21 are killed and 390 injured in crashes each year in the North Central region, according to data provided by the company.
“Car crashes remain the number one preventable cause of death for youth in B.C.,” said Doug Mac Donald, local ICBC road safety coordinator. “Our road safety speakers share their personal, heartbreaking stories to get teens talking about the danger of taking risks behind the wheel and help them make safer choices.”
Westhaver hopes his talk leaves a lasting impact, and the message that resonates with students is a simple one.
“Life’s short, be safe and speak up. You never know whose life you’re going to save by speaking up.”