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By STUART CASSIDY
PERRY COUNTY – “I know about making good choices … I know about making bad choices,” said 35-year-old Chris Sandy as he showed Heritage Hills students a picture of himself in handcuffs. Sandy and his brother-in-law, Eric Krug, were featured speakers April 3 through their Enduring Regret program in assemblies at area schools discussing the dangers of drinking and driving.
The presentations, including those at Tell City and Perry Central, were initiated by Stolen Blessings, an organization dedicated to educating people about the impacts alcohol and drunk driving can have. Founder Michelle Simms lost her husband, Sean, in 2005 to a drunk driver. She now works to prevent others from knowing that tragedy.
“I would really like for the people in our community to see what the actual effects are of drinking and driving. It’s easier if people witness it through actual life experiences versus statistics,” Simms said. “The guys are amazing at presenting that. I have been with them the last three days at several schools … they are great. They share a wonderful message and have good hearts.”
The pair visited several local schools, including Jasper and Southridge.
They present their stories to nearly 150 venues each year.
Simms went on to say the community has been very receptive to the message offered, with several students joining the duo’s FaceBook page.
At 22 years old, Sandy, who grew up near Atlanta, found himself incarcerated in a Georgia state penitentiary after he caused a traffic accident that claimed the life of two people. He spent the remainder of his 20s in prison because he chose to drink and drive. In fact, the majority of his 3,117 days were spent in a cell after he was convicted and sentenced to 30 years of incarceration on two counts of vehicular homicide by driving under the influence.
Today his experience is translated into a message used to help others understand the importance of making the right choices in life, especially when it comes to alcohol and drug use. Understanding that he wanted to give back, at least in some way, to repent for his wrongs, Sandy began studying under a mentor and in 2004 began speaking at forums about how his actions forever negatively altered other lives. Sandy’s story and live presentation were developed into an Emmy Award-winning documentary that is distributed to middle and high schools, military bases and drunk-driving and drug-intervention programs across the country.
Sandy, formerly known as Prisoner No. 103688, told about how his one choice to attend a party April 11, 2000, down four drinks and leave for another party not only ruined his life, but also shattered what was left of the family of his innocent victims.
He said his own family was destroyed financially; his parents eventually divorced because of the strain and his little sister, who had once adored him cast him out of her life.
“I know because of my choices there are two wonderful people dead; they’re gone because of me. There is nothing in my life that I can ever do to change that,” Sandy said.
Driving down a country road that Sandy had taken numerous times before, one which had a speed limit of 35 mph, police estimated his car was going in excess of 77 mph when he crashed into a 1984 Ford LTD. He told about the circumstances that led to the crash and how his reckless driving and attempt to pass a minivan played into a reality that quickly became surreal.
“We used to fly down this road, that was a given, we didn’t have to worry about cops – it was way out in the country. So that night, there I am driving down this road, I have my radio up; I’ve got my buddy and we’re laughing and we’re ready to get to this party … I’m flying, doing about 80 mph,” Sandy said. “I saw this gold beam flash in front of face, and then BLAM! I heard this incredibly loud sound and everything went black … I found myself pinned up against the passenger-side dash against the glass. I could barely breathe and I knew I had to find someway to get out.”
After the crash, Sandy had a dislocated hip, was in excruciating pain and went in and out of consciousness. In a moment of lucidity, he said he remembered an officer asking him if he had been drinking.
“I knew when I was at that party I had those four drinks back-to-back-to-back. I did not want to go to jail for drinking and driving … It was bad enough that my car was crashed … and the night was ruined … so I said no sir,” he recalled. “Then in the background I heard someone yell something … those foul words I will not forget for the rest of my life … ‘there’s a fatality on the scene.’”
“As soon as I heard those words, I knew right then that I had killed someone. I could not believe that something like this could happen,” Sandy said. “I just laid there and prayed to God, hoping that the next time I closed my eyes and opened them up that everything would be OK.”
Sandy’s passenger walked away from the crash, but two elderly people in the Ford that Sandy hit didn’t.
As Sandy showed pictures of the crash, which mangled his car and nearly split the Ford in two, he emotionally told students that for the rest of his life, he knows he is responsible for killing someone’s grandparents and “they are dead because of what I did.”
After landing in prison, Sandy said the experience was terrifying. There was continual yelling by guards and inmates. Entering the cell was a lonely experience and meant a complete loss of his former self. There, he was left to his thoughts – the memories of playing high-school sports, the girlfriend who stayed by his side for the first four years he was incarcerated but, who like all his other friends, eventually moved on, his family and the family of those who he killed.
“Lying up in that bunk, I knew what I had done wrong,” he said. “I knew what I should have done different, and I didn’t.”
“I was real selfish. I wasn’t worried about what would happen to anyone else. I was worried about me,” he continued. “Now, I hate seeing what everyone else went through because of it.”
Since his release from prison late in 2008, a term of his probation requires him to visit the accident site each anniversary of the crash. He is also on probation until 2031 to fulfill his 30-year sentence. Along with that he has no driver’s license.
Now a father of two, Sandy hopes to one day have his driving privileges reinstated, if for no other reason than to be the responsible adult he needs to be for his kids.
Sandy and Krug met in 2009 through Sandy’s outreach seminars. Krug is also a victim of poor decisions stemming from an alcohol-related accident.
Krug was a baseball standout at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, Ga., where he earned numerous athletic accolades playing second base. But that all ended abruptly in 1997 on his 21st birthday, after a night of partying – after he chose to get into a car with a driver who had also been drinking.
Now unable to speak because of his injuries, Sandy told how his friend went from a body of athletic prowess to one who can’t walk without assistance and needs a computer-aided voice program to communicate to the public.
On the night of the accident, as they approached the university, the driver crashed into trees, causing Krug to suffer a head injury that left him in a coma for more than a year. When he awoke, his life was forever changed. Aside from his obvious injuries, he has short-term memory loss and has difficulties recalling important events in his life.
The crash also claimed the life of Krug’s teammate and best friend.
Krug used his keyboard to briefly speak to Heritage Hills students. In his message, he relayed why he needs assistance speaking and that “it’s not an easy story to tell” but he hopes telling it may just save a life.
In presenting both his own and Krug’s message, Sandy said it is important that people “realize how important this life is.”
After the presentation, Sandy went on to say that he has found that the best way to get his message across is to be open and vulnerable and “tell them from my heart,” about the consequences their decisions can have.
“We want them to know that Eric and I used to be just like them. We were the ones sitting in the bleachers thinking that nothing would ever happen to us,” he said.
For more information about Sandy and Krug’s journey, visit www.enduringregret.org.