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Before Prom, Students Get Sobering Advice

 
   

 
   

 


BRENDA BUCHANON News Editor

Tonight is prom night for students in Johnston and Sampson County schools. It can be one of the best times of a high school student's life. However, with the number teens killed in car wrecks in the area, it is also a time to think about safety.

Yesterday, a safe teen driving event was held at South Johnston High School, led by Princeton High School senior Summer Capps. Summer wanted to bring a message to her fellow teens about what happens when fast driving and alcohol are combined.

The impact of that combination hit home during a presentation by Peggy Bennett and her permanently disabled 25-year-old son, Josh Bennett, both of Matthews.

"I want to save your lives," Josh told the juniors and seniors.

On Jan. 25, 2001, at 2:40 a.m. Mrs. Bennett received a call from Carolinas Medical Center - a call she said no parent wants to receive. Her knees buckled as she listened to the caller. Her son had been in a car accident and was in ICU. She and her husband Nick were told to come to the hospital without any explanation.

Peggy said her son only had a minor cut on his forehead when she saw him, but there was more damage inside. Josh's brain had been sheared. His brain injury was so bad, it moved around both lobes of his brain leaving him permanently disabled. Mrs. Bennett said the doctors eventually told them to place Josh in a skilled nursing facility because there was no rehabilitation that would help him. The parents wouldn't do that and took him home after 106 days in the hospital.

It took five months before Josh made any movement - he scratched his chest. Later he picked up a hat and put it on. After seven months of recovery, he spoke his first words.

"Little by little, he learned to walk, dress himself and feed himself. Little by little he came back," Mrs. Bennett said.

With a backdrop behind her of a mangled mess that looked little like a car, Mrs. Bennett related her story about Josh and what can happen when teenagers drink and drive. Josh ran into a bridge abutment at approximately 70 mph after partying with friends. He had a blood alcohol level of .22, nearly three times the legal limit, his mom said. The car caught on fire and three people pulled him out. His and his family's lives were forever changed.

Mrs. Bennett said as a result of Josh's bad decision, she wants to tell his story to as many young people as she can. She said this is what Josh wants to do and she helps him.

"You are not invincible," Mrs. Bennett said.

Josh moves around with a walker. He can talk, but his speech is slow and you must listen intently to understand what he says.

"I had to learn how to eat, walk, talk," Josh said.

"We are fortunate," Mrs. Bennett said, "we got a chance to keep our Josh."

But through all of this Josh maintains his sense of humor. His mother said he was a happy-go-lucky teenager, with lots of friends and everybody loved him.

There were sniffs and tears falling from some of the students' eyes as they looked at Josh and listened to Mrs. Bennett.

At the end of the program, Josh said, "That's right, I want to save everybody. I want to save them, save them all."

Josh stood holding onto his walker, waiting for the students as they left the auditorium. A few students spoke to him, one shook his hand, but most walked out the door without a sound.

"You almost want the impact of them (the students) not saying anything to Josh after the presentation. Maybe it jarred them, made them uncomfortable," Mrs. Bennett said.

School Principal Barry Honeycutt said at South Johnston they have been fortunate. "But it still has an impact on us. Anytime you can have a program where students get to see what can happen, it helps. We have to continue to say it," he said.