It’s been about six and a half years since Bethany Pearson, 23, of Wyoming, lost control of her car near Forest Lake on a “slippery, dark night” and slid into an oncoming pickup. The crash killed Bethany’s younger sister Hannah, 14, in the back seat.
The Dec. 9, 2005 crash also severely injured Pearson, who was 16 at the time, and another teen girl passenger in the car. The pickup driver escaped physical injury.
Pearson talked about the incident on Tuesday last week at Princeton High School as part of a safe-driving presentation. Her talk was timed to be a few days before the May 5 PHS prom and her audience was mostly juniors and seniors.
Pearson’s mother Sharon Pearson accompanied Bethany at the talk and filled in some details afterward for this story.
Sharon said that Bethany had hit a pothole in the road and when Bethany tried to compensate, she overcorrected and the car slid out of control to the left, slamming into an oncoming pickup in the other lane. The pickup T-boned the right side of Bethany’s car.
Bethany underwent 15 hours of surgery right after the accident to deal with the damage to her face, head and jaw. Titanium screws and plates were used extensively to put her face and skull back together. Cranial nerves were damaged and today her left eye is permanently affected. Her left pupil does not react to light and has restricted movement. The damaged left eye causes her to have constant double vision.
She also had traumatic brain injury, was in the hospital 70 days and had to “relearn everything,” Bethany and her mother said. Bethany couldn’t talk or walk for a period of time after the accident.
Doctors had thought right after the accident that they would just keep her alive long enough to give her parents a chance to say good-bye and make it possible for her to be an organ donor, Bethany continued.
But she recovered well enough, after various kinds of therapy, to where she could ride her horse Dan again, and after extensive driver’s training at Camp Courage, received a restricted license to drive again. Bethany said that when she rides horse, she has “empowerment” and feels free and not disabled or judged.
Prior to the accident Bethany had wanted to become an equine veterinarian but now wants to go into the therapy field, using horses as part of it “to help hurting kids… and make a difference in children’s lives.”
Some good things came out of the accident, Bethany said, explaining, “Life has changed…my faith deepened,” and “I am on Earth for a purpose.” A big purpose, she said, is to try to save lives through her presentations on safe driving.
Bethany has also gone on to more formal learning, becoming a sophomore at North Central University in Minneapolis, where she is majoring in speech communication.
“My repair and recovery attests to the excellent emergency and medical care I received and the remarkable capabilities of the body to heal,” she went on.
“My reality, though harsh…remains full of purpose. It is incredible to be so broken and not be expected to survive and then be given a chance to live again. My perspective is that life is short. Tomorrow is not guaranteed.”
Urgent message on driving
Bethany urged her teen listeners to “make positive choices when driving,” adding, “It is your life at stake and potentially the lives of others. Don’t make a decision that will kill yourself or anyone else.”
It wasn’t until three weeks after the accident, Bethany said, that it “sunk in” that she had lost her sister, and the fact “hit” when she would walk past her sister’s room.
Most emotional part
The most emotional part in the presentation, however, came during what turned out to be a second installment of the question-and-answer segment. The audience had applauded what everyone thought had been the end of the presentation until someone informed the presenters that the students still had nearly a half-hour left before their next class.
The question period was reopened with a state trooper on stage taking questions on various laws pertaining to driving. Then a student asked Bethany what was the hardest part in her recovery.
The question clearly affected Bethany, her voice breaking and some of her sentences spoken haltingly as she answered. The audience seemed to feel it as a hush fell over the performing arts center as Bethany began.
The hardest part of recovery, Bethany said, “was the psychological part, the fact that knowing I drove the car that killed my sister. It broke my heart. And you guys never want to be there.
“Don’t ever make a choice that may kill someone else, ‘cause not only do you have your own guilt then, you have to realize you changed their whole family’s lives forever.
“…that’s not nice or pretty. It hurts. I needed psychological counseling to get over it and I still have really rough days. My sister’s room is next to mine and I have to walk past her empty room and I did not do anything wrong. I was not impaired. I was not distracted. It was just an innocent act.
“…you guys don’t ever want to be the person who does something like talking on a cell phone or having gotten drunk or not wearing a seat belt and end up killing someone else’s baby. …It’s hell. It sucks.
“So don’t ever think that ‘It’s not going to happen to me.’ Because if you’re distracted you don’t know what’s going to happen…”
Bethany described her baby sister as a very loving person who “ministered” to many people. “We know of 14 people who changed their lives permanently” because of Hannah, Bethany said. “She started to draw pictures of herself with wings a week before the accident and she loved people more than anyone I have ever met in my life. She didn’t care who you were, where you were from or what you looked like, you’re going to get a hug and some real love. She changed more people’s lives than I know with love.”