A Teenager Survives A Tragic Car Crash, Then Uses Her Life To Help Others Avoid “Distracted” Driving.
By Christine Simoes
Twenty-one-year-old Bailey Wind has spent the last four years learning to live what she calls her “new normal.” She was 17-years-old when the SUV she was riding in was hit from behind by a drunk driver on the Northway in Saratoga County, New York. The vehicle Bailey was in careened off the highway and crashed into a tree, killing her boyfriend, Christopher, and her best friend, Deanna. Bailey was trapped under the dashboard, and she drifted in and out of consciousness as emergency crews worked frantically to remove her from the wreckage.
Her neck was broken, and all of her front teeth were knocked out. It was her invisible injuries that have been the most difficult to heal, though. After the accident, Bailey had trouble controlling her emotions and experienced frequent fits of anger. She threw things, punched holes in her basement wall, and acted aggressively toward her mother and sister. On several occasions, her parents were forced to pin her down or splash water on her face to calm her down. After these incidents, Bailey would have little to no memory of what had just happened. “They would tell me what happened, and I would break down and say sorry about a million times,” she says. “My parents would break down too because it was hard for them to watch.”
During one of Bailey’s worst episodes, she fainted and hit her head on a wall. Her parents called 911, and Bailey had to be forcibly placed into an ambulance by EMTs. She says it brought back memories of being taken to the hospital in an ambulance after the accident.
After Bailey’s therapist had diagnosed her with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, she began to understand why she was experiencing so much anger. The diagnosis didn’t make it any easier coming to terms with her behavior. “I turn into somebody who’s not me, and it makes me upset,” she says. “That’s not who I am. That’s not who I was. It’s embarrassing that people see that I can get like that, especially since they don’t know why it’s happening.”
It didn’t take long after the accident for Bailey to realize she wasn’t the same person she had been. “It is like my life before the accident didn’t exist—like it wasn’t real,” she says. In addition to dealing with anger, Bailey has struggled with extreme anxiety and constant fears her family and friends will die. She suffers from depression, and there have been times when she could barely get out of bed. She remembers “bits and pieces” of being trapped in the vehicle and has been extremely claustrophobic since the accident. She has little patience for others, and it is not unusual for her to overreact to situations. “I get pissed off very easily at the littlest things,” she says.
The driver who was responsible for the accident has made frequent appearances in her nightmares. She dreams that she is a passenger in his car as it plummets off of a cliff. That driver, Dennis Drue, pled guilty to 58 charges and was sentenced to five to 15 years in jail. Bailey has little to say about him. “I don’t think about Dennis Drue,” she says. “He’s where he needs to be.”
Shortly before the accident occurred, Bailey signed her letter of intent to attend the University of Tennessee as a member of the school’s diving team. Although the accident made her future as a diver uncertain, her coach was extremely supportive and allowed her to keep her spot on the team. Bailey was determined to dive again and practiced with the team after she started college. “I was in a lot of pain, but I just sucked it up,” she says. “I didn’t want to complain, but my body just couldn’t do it. I have an old lady’s body.” She suffers from chronic back and neck pain, and the arthritis medication that doctors prescribed offered no relief. It didn’t take long for both Bailey and her coach to realize her diving career had come to an end, but he allowed her to remain on the team and work as a youth coach. Although she appreciates his never-ending support as well as the support and friendship of her teammates, it hasn’t been easy to remain a part of the team. “It’s hard to watch because I wish it were me,” she says. “But I’ve gotten used to it.” She had to come to terms that her dream of becoming an NCAA or SEC champion will never come true. She thinks of the countless hours she spent practicing and competing and will always wonder “what could have been.”
She also thinks about Deanna and Christopher every day and says there are reminders of them everywhere. “I lost two people that I loved so much,” she says. For a long time, she suffered from survivor’s guilt and didn’t think she was entitled to experience any joy in her life.
She has chosen to bring some good out of a senseless tragedy by speaking to high school students about the dangers of impaired and distracted driving. Although she finds it difficult and exhausting to constantly relive the accident and its impact, she knows that the message is one that needs to be heard. “I’m trying to make something positive out of something bad that happened,” she says. “Anybody could have been in my seat that night.”
As she continues her healing journey, Bailey, who is on schedule to get her bachelor’s degree, receives regular and ongoing psychotherapy and takes medication for anxiety and depression. Neurofeedback treatments have helped her improve her short-term memory, which was impaired after the accident. On the recommendation of her therapist, she plans to start yoga. “I still have a long way to go,” she says, “but I’m handling situations better and have gotten rid of a lot of my anger.”
Bailey finds writing to be therapeutic. She even self-published a book, “Save Me a Spot in Heaven.” The book is a tribute to Christopher, and it tells the story of their relationship as well as the accident. It’s in many libraries in schools throughout New York. Several use it in after-school book clubs. “It’s been crazy,” she says. “I never thought it would impact people so much. I feel like God kept me around for a reason.”