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Headquarters Battalion Marines and sailors, as part of the Safety Division’s “101 Critical Days of Summer,” gained a deeper understanding of driver safety during a brief at the base theater May 16.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Alejandro Bedoya

Survivor relives accident, teaches Marines

24 May 2013 | Lance Cpl. Alejandro Bedoya

Headquarters Battalion Marines and sailors, as part of the Safety Division’s “101 Critical Days of Summer,” gained a deeper understanding of driver safety during a brief at the base theater May 16.

Kelly Narowski, a safety speaker, focused her message toward driver safety, situation awareness and the consequences of quick decisions. She used her own unique experiences to emphasize many of the points.

Kelly began her brief with facts about traumatic brain and spinal cord injury and just how unexpected an injury can be.

“Nobody expects to wake up in the morning without the ability to walk,” Kelly said. “It is something you are born with and never expect to lose.”

During her presentation, Kelly also mentioned that traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries have claimed more American lives than every war the country has been involved in since 1977.

Utilizing a Power-Point presentation, Kelly highlight not only civilians but known celebrities who were both the cause and victims of drunk and reckless driving.

She continued her presentation with a series of videos and various news broadcasts from around the country that highlighted tragic events.

Driving while texting and drowsy driving are just as dangerous as driving under the influence, according to Kelly.

“They are just bad habits,” said Kelly. “People make these choices on a sub-conscience level. They aren’t even thinking about it and that’s what I did.”

Kelly concluded her presentation by sharing her own story:

“It was Sept. 27, 1998, when I got in the accident. I was living in Santa Barbara and was working two full time jobs. I worked with a girl named Heather. She was very fun to be around but was always drinking. I went to meet her at her place that Sunday afternoon to go to the beach and she was already drinking martinis. I wasn’t a big drinker, but she kept asking and I ended up having two drinks with her that night. It is important to pay attention to who you surround yourself with.

“We jumped in her Jeep Wrangler and started heading down Highway 1. People always told me to be careful on that road because it is a very curvy mountain road. Her blood-alcohol content at the time ended up being .28, which is toxic. My blood alcohol level at the time was .10. I didn’t think anything of it, I just thought I had a buzz. She looked over at me and told me she was too drunk and that I needed to drive. My first thought was, she is always drunk so it must be really bad this time.

“I jumped out of the passenger seat and switched places with her. I remember a lot about that moment. I remember what I was wearing, I remember the sight of the mountain, I remember a lot about that moment because it was the last time I would ever walk again.

“Once I hopped into the driver’s seat, I did not put my seat belt on. Heather put hers on as soon as she sat down.”

Kelly emphasized the potential severity of a consequence that results from quick decisions.

“There were a lot of things going on at the moment. All I remember was saying, ‘Oh my God, Heather.’”

“The police report showed that the jeep hit the guard rail. If that rail wasn’t there, we would have gone down the side of the mountain. After hitting the guard rail, my chest hit the steering wheel at about 70 miles per hour, breaking a couple ribs and my collar bone. The jeep then swerved over and hit the guard rail a second time. This time, my body flew around the jeep like a rag doll. I ended up in the back seat where I shattered one of my vertebrae. It shattered all in my back and my spinal cord was stretched out like a piece of taffy.

“I try not to complain about it because no one wants to hear it. It has been very hard, but I learned that it could always be worse.”

In the days to follow, Kelly was told by her doctor that she was paralyzed and had lost the use of her legs. The quick decision to jump in the driver’s seat had changed her life entirely.

 “I couldn’t imagine getting a serious injury,” said Pfc. Chris Smith, supply clerk, Consolidated Material Support Center. “It really opens your eyes when you have someone going through an injury, giving the brief about what could happen to you if you injure these body parts.”

Narowski was once a travel agent but now travels around the nation to share her story.

“Small, split-second decisions can have enormous consequences,” Kelly said. “You’re rolling the dice every time you make a bad decision. Don’t learn the hard way like I did.”

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