This Best of the LPJ for 2022 story was originally published on April 8, 2022.
By Karen Otwell
This is the story of a 16-year old young man, full of life and energy, who loved his family and his friends. But it is a sad, tragic story. On Saturday, June 3, 2003, I left my house near Choudrant to go to Ruston. About a mile down the road, I rounded a curve and saw fire trucks, ambulances, sheriff’s deputies and state troopers in the parking lot of our local church. My first thought was the church had burned down but as I slowed and passed by, I saw what was left of a vehicle—totally crushed, wrapped around a tree, and burned beyond recognition.
My first thought was no one could have survived that crash. It was the worse wreckage I had ever seen in my life. Two minutes later, I discovered my beautiful, precious 16-year old son was trapped in that car. He was killed instantly with a severe head injury and burned up along with the vehicle. In one split second my son, his life, and part of me were gone forever.
The reason: alcohol—drinking and driving.
This is my son. Cory Dale Otwell, born June 16, 1986, died June 7, 2003. Killed at the young age of 16. Just nine days later he would have turned 17. I celebrated his 17th birthday by going to his grave, falling on top of it and crying as hard as I have ever cried in my life.
While Cory was with us, I can honestly say he loved and lived his life to the fullest each day. You rarely saw him without a smile on his face. Cory was a very loving person, and he was never ashamed to show his love. He was never too old to hug me and his dad and tell us he loved us in front of his friends. Cory was the baby out of six children. Close to his older brothers and sister, he always found time to spend with them. Our world revolved around him, and his world revolved around us. There has not been a day since his accident that we have not cried or hit our knees from the intense pain of losing him and wonder how we are going to make it another day without our beloved Cory.
The pain is never ends. Family get-togethers are devastating. Holidays are times of anguish and sorrow. There are no Christmas presents under the tree for Cory. I can no longer buy him gifts. Cory is gone forever. Death is final. There are no second chances. When Cory left this earth, he took most of my heart and his dad’s heart with him.
While Cory’s first love was his family, his second love was baseball. Cory started baseball at age five and never quit until death took him out of the game forever. Cory always dreamed he would play major league baseball. He told us he would support us so we could make each of his ball games. Three different coaches told us Cory had the athletic ability to take his baseball to a higher level. His dream will not come true. We will no longer share those dreams because he made one fatal mistake that cost him his young life forever.
Cory and a friend had been to a party, and both had been drinking. The friend was driving that fateful morning. Two very precious lives were ruined that morning. Cory’s life taken
away forever; the friend was charged with vehicular homicide and must live the rest of his life with the guilt and shame of taking another person’s life. While Cory’s father and I live with the pain, his friend will live with the guilt.
Louisiana has one of the highest alcohol related fatality rates in the nation. Car crashes are the leading cause of death among young people today. Many of those accidents occur because the teen driver has been drinking. Drinking by teens is not a harmless rite of passage; it is not just part of growing up. It is killing our sons and daughters. In a two-week span before and after Cory’s accident, eight young people were killed in north Louisiana in alcohol-related accidents. The deaths continue today.
We never think it will be one of ours who dies. When Cory walked out the door that Friday afternoon, I never dreamed it would be the last time I would ever see him alive, I would ever hear his voice, or tell him I loved him. We never thought it would or could happen to us.
As a former sheriff’s deputy, I saw what our officers do daily to stop this terrible waste. But law enforcement alone will not save our youth. You have a role, too. Love your kids. Protect them the best you can. Know what they are doing. Who are their friends? Where are they going? Share with them the dangers of drinking and driving. They believe they are invincible. They believe they are adults, but they still need supervision. Do whatever it takes to protect them—the alternative is unthinkable.