This Saturday, Tift County High School students will enjoy a day known for the beautiful dresses, nice tuxedos, over-the-top hairdos and fancy limos and cars. It's prom — a day to remember and have fun with friends. But, before preparing for the night of their lives, TCHS students learned that one wrong decision can change the rest of their lives forever.
Chris Sandy, who's been in Tifton several times before, spoke to the students Monday morning at the Performing Arts Center. He, along with his brother-in-law Eric Krug, partnered together to inspire people of all ages, especially youth, by sharing their stories about the painful consequences of drunk driving.
Sandy, now age 36, served eight and a half years in prison after he got behind the wheel of a vehicle while drunk and crashed into an oncoming vehicle, killing an elderly couple, when he was 22 years old.
As he began telling his story to the students Monday, he showed them a 2004 picture of himself on the screen behind him of when he was in a Georgia state prison. He said he spent 3,117 days in prison because of the choice he made.
Sandy said now he wakes up every day and knows that he's responsible for killing two "wonderful people."
"They're dead because of what I did," he said. At 22 years old, he said he would have never imagined anything like this happening.
"But, believe me, it takes one bad choice," he told the students.
Sandy said the night of April 11, 2000 started out at a small party, where he had four drinks. Some of his friends wanted to go to another party. So, he got in the driver's seat and his friend, Jesse, climbed into the passenger seat to head to the party, but they never made it.
Sandy said he was driving down a country road that he's familiar with, traveling at a speed of about 80 mph in a 35 mph speed zone. He said all of a sudden, he drove up on a white minivan. He said as soon as he saw the vehicle in front of him, he looked over at his friend and then back at the road. He decided to pass the minivan and as he was passing the vehicle, he noticed an oncoming vehicle in the other lane with its left-hand turn signal on.
"Everything happened so fast," Sandy said. As soon as he started getting back over into his lane, he saw a bold flash shoot in front of his face. He then heard this incredibly loud and solid sound, and everything went blank.
He said after he regained consciousness, an officer was standing over him who informed him that a helicopter was on its way.
Sandy said the officer asked him if he knew how fast he was going. He said he already knew in the back of his mind that he was going way too fast for that road. He said he was unsure of what happened, but he didn't want to get into anymore trouble.
"So, I looked over at him and I said, 'No sir,'"he said.
Sandy said the officer then asked him if there was someone he could contact, because the situation was really serious. He said the first person that came to his mind was his mother. The officer then asked him if had he been drinking. Sandy said he knew when he left the party that he had been slamming drinks back to back, but he told the officer no.
"As soon as I said that, I heard someone in the background yell something, and those words that I heard yelled, I promise every one of you, I will not forget them for the rest of my life," he told the students. "Because, as I'm worried on the side of the road about going to jail, worried about what happened to my car, my friend, I hear someone in the background all of a sudden yell, 'There's a fatality on the scene. There's a fatality on the scene.' As soon as I hear those words, I realized right then and there that I had just killed someone."
Sandy was going approximately 77 mph, and as he was passing the white minivan, he started to get back in his lane. The oncoming vehicle with the left-hand turn signal tried to make a left-hand turn into a driveway. As soon as they made the turn, he slammed into the rear passenger door, completely cutting the car in half. The female passenger died on impact, and her husband, who was the driver, and Sandy were airlifted to Atlanta Medical Center. The husband later died.
Sandy said he didn't know the couple, but he had some friends who knew them. He said he found out that they were wonderful people in their early 70s and they had a granddaughter.
"For the rest of my life, all of the time, when I wake up, I always realize the fact that because I wanted to go to some party, because I felt like everything was going so well, I was having so much fun. I understand that I'm responsible for killing these two wonderful people — somebody's grandparents. They're dead because of me," he said.
He added, "I hate what I did. I wish I could take all of this back, but I can't."
Sandy was charged with two counts of vehicular homicide by DUI. He is now serving probation until 2031. On April 11 of every year, he's required to visit the crash scene, and he's not allowed to drive again until the judge says gives him permission.
Sandy said the hardest thing was seeing what his choice would do to his family.
"That choice I made in my life affected everyone around me," he said. He noted his worst experience in prison was when he learned that his father had a massive heart attack and died as he, his mother and sister were leaving the prison after visiting him on Thanksgiving Day.
When introducing Krug, Sandy said he was an all-star baseball player in college. However, Krug's life changed on his 21st birthday. He and some friends got into a car that was being driven by a drunk driver.
Sandy explained on April 11, 1997 (they share the same date, but different years), Krug and his teammates went somewhere to celebrate his birthday. Late that night, his sister took him and his girlfriend and put them in a taxi. However, Krug's best friend, who was also his teammate, then walked over to the car and somehow convinced him to get out.
Sandy noted Krug was drunk. He and his girlfriend got out of the taxi and got in the vehicle with his best friend and his girlfriend, who was driving. Sandy said the driver, who was drunk, tried to make a right turn, slamming into some trees at 35 mph. Krug's best friend, who wasn't wearing a seat belt, died. Krug, who was in the passenger seat, received serious injuries, including a traumatic brain injury. He was in a coma for about a year. He can no longer talk. He communicates by using other methods, such as a small board or his iPad, which he uses an app called "Speak it!" that converts written words into spoken words.
Krug also has to walk with the assistance of a walker or uses a wheelchair. He no longer has the ability to walk on his own.
He communicated on his iPad to the students, "I wish life was different, but it's not."
Sandy said he met Krug when he and his mother came to visit him in 2006. He became his best friend.
"He's by far the biggest inspiration in my life," Sandy said, calling Krug an "amazing person."
He showed the students pictures and videos of Krug before and after his accident, which caused some students to tear up. Krug may be a victim of a DUI crash, but Sandy says he's an athlete at heart.
"He never gives up," he said, adding Krug wants to get better. He wants to walk and talk again. Sandy noted Krug one day introduced him to his sister, who he later married. They have two children.
"Going out and sharing our stories is what pushes Eric to move further in life," Sandy said. "We just want to see you do the right things to succeed in life."
He noted he and Krug have a book about their stories called, "Enduring Regret." It's available at http://enduringregret.org.
Local girl Nicole Taylor, 21, worked with Tift County Sheriff Gene Scarbrough and Capt. Dennis Reese to get Sandy and Krug to come to Tifton.
Scarbrough told The Tifton Gazette that the presentation by Sandy and Krug is planting a seed in the high school students' thought process to make the right decisions and to not drink and drive. He said hopefully, their message will carry with them throughout their lives.
"If we can save one life, then it was worth having them here," he said.
To contact reporter Latasha Ford, call 382-4321.