“I first started drinking when I was 12 years old. I met a group of friends at a park and we started hanging out. As I got out of middle school, into high school, my drinking became a little more regular. There was always a party to go to. If there wasn’t one, we’d make one.
“My family didn’t find out that I had been drinking until I was probably 14 or 15 years old. My parents tried confronting me and I’d pretend to listen but then every moment I could, you know, or thought that I could get away with it I’d be sneaking right back out. When I left high school and went to college I met a group of friends – some fraternity guys. We started partying just about every day and I’d be over there drinking and ditching class. That’s kind of how my college career went.
“I always considered myself a safe driver. I never got behind the wheel while drinking. I always wore my seatbelt. I always drove the speed limit, but that night was different.
“It was November 12th, 2011, and a friend of mine, Jennifer, had asked me to be her designated driver and of course I said yes. We went out and we hit a couple parties and we were sitting at the second party. There was lots of liquor, music was going and everybody was having fun but I was kind of bored. At that point I think I told myself one beer won’t hurt, but one beer turned to two and two turned to three, turned to shots. By the end of the night I had a .14 BAC. The last thing I remember was sitting at a kitchen table and then waking up in a hospital room.”
“I was in a coma for 7 days. When I woke up nobody would tell me what was going on, what happened. They just wanted me to focus on getting better, on healing up.
“I’d been scrolling on Facebook, a nurse had brought me a laptop in. It was all the same things – ‘get well soon Steven,’ ‘you know we love you’ and ‘we miss you.’ But then I ran into this one post that made me remember why I was out that night and it read, ‘R.I.P. Jennifer.’
“My friend came to visit me at the hospital and I had to ask him, ‘Is Jennifer dead?’ and all he could do was nod. They let me know that she was in the car with me, that we had been going too fast down 65 Highway.
“When I got the accident reconstruction report back, it said we rolled four and a half times. I wasn’t wearing my seatbelt. I didn’t make sure my passenger had on her seatbelt. We were both ejected from the vehicle. I went 150 feet – Jennifer nearly a football field. We had suffered similar injuries – spinal and lacerations – but the biggest one was the severe head trauma, which we are both bleeding from the brain. I was life-flighted to University Hospital in Columbia, Mo., and Jennifer to research in Kansas City, but on 9 a.m. November 13, 2011, Jennifer died from severe brain trauma.
“I saw Jennifer’s mother a few weeks after I was released from the hospital. She came over to check in and see how I was doing, and she just wanted answers. She wanted to know what was going on that night, why we were out, why I was behind the wheel after I had been drinking, why we hadn’t called somebody and I didn’t know what to say. All I could say is ‘I don’t know, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.’
“In December of 2013 I was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the first degree. I was sentenced to 120 days in the Department of Corrections and thereafter I was sentenced to a five-year probation term with a 5-year backup meaning if at any point in time I got in trouble in those five years of probation I would go back to the Missouri Department of Corrections for five years.
“I saw how much pain that I had put my family and my friends through after I was released from prison. We go home and the Christmas tree was still up, my dad wouldn’t let anybody take it down until I was home. He couldn’t have Christmas without me and it was then that I realized how bad I really, really hurt my family. It was then I realized how bad I messed up because if my family is hurting this much with me being gone four months, I can’t imagine how bad Jennifer’s family must be feeling right now. Because it’s not gonna be four months, it’s not gonna be another couple weeks, another couple days. They don’t ever get to see her again.
“I miss her smile. It was contagious. She could make anybody laugh, anybody have a good day. She would start a conversation with anybody. She’s a great friend, she’s a hard worker.
“Nobody ever thinks it could happen to them. I definitely didn’t think it could happen to me. I thought I was smart than that, better than that. But I found out it can happen to anybody if you just let your guard down for a minute. One mistake can change your life or somebody else’s life forever.”
In Memory of Jennifer Wright
January 6, 1991 – November 13, 2011