Most school assemblies it takes a few moments for the students to settle into their seats and pipe down. Even then, it's not all that uncommon for hushed whispers to continue on, as well as a little horse play.
Such wasn't the case yesterday at Sunnyside High School. The air suddenly stilled and the SHS students went completely silent as Kyle Wallingford began speaking before his schoolmates and providing them with a slide show, sharing the impact drinking and driving has had on his life.
"It was April 15...everyone knows that as tax day," he began. "...but my life was changed on that day in 1991 because someone got into a car after drinking."
Wallingford was two when the crash that turned his life upside down occurred. He said most people do not carry many memories around from the age of two, but he does.
"I remember waking up with wires and monitors all around me...I remember wanting my mom and crawling out of the bed to find her, leaving a small trail of blood...I remember the sound of the crash," he shared.
Wallingford was the passenger in a vehicle driven by his grandmother. His mother was in the passenger seat at the front of the vehicle and he was in the back seat.
It was a normal tax day for his family. The trio had just left his brother at pre-school and were headed to Yakima from Granger. They were going to drop off taxes and pick up a suit for Wallingford's uncle who was in the Gulf War.
"We never made it," said Wallingford.
He said his grandmother had traveled approximately a mile-and-a-half west on I-82 from Granger when a Monte Carlo crashed head-on into her vehicle "...and I was put in a wheelchair for life."
Wallingford shared that his grandmother died upon impact as the steering wheel crushed her chest. Eyes glistening, he pointed to a picture that showed the entire engine compartment shoved into the front seat. More tears welled as a picture was displayed showing a covering over the driver's side of the vehicle. Another photo displayed to SHS students showed emergency personnel on the passenger side of the vehicle, where his mother was trapped inside the twisted metal.
The young Wallingford, seated in back, was jarred forward when the collision occurred, snapping his spinal column in the lower lumbar. The slingshot action tossed him back against the seat, pinching the nerves within his frail bones. In addition, the impact caused whiplash, separating his skull...the only protection for his brain was the skin surrounding his head.
He said he now suffers from some memory problems.
"This is where I was," Wallingford said as he showed a photo of the grill to the Monte Carlo that collided with the vehicle. It landed beside his spot in the car.
The driver and passenger in the Monte Carlo both died at the scene. Wallingford said the pair had left a party, weren't wearing their seatbelts, were under the influence of drugs and the driver did not have a driver's license.
It took emergency personnel two hours to remove his mother from the compacted vehicle he was riding in. He, too, had photos showing the entire passenger compartment had to be removed along with what remained of the roof. "The wheel should not be where the front seats usually are," he pointed out as another photo was shown.
"My message is this could happen to anyone. Deciding to drink at a party and drive after can be fatal," shared Wallingford, gathering his composure. He said the message was not easy to deliver, but he felt it was important.
He said he wants his classmates to make good decisions "...because this is real.
"I want you to think about the impact drinking and driving has on others, such as myself and my family."