A teenager survives a tragic car crash, then uses her life to help others avoid “distracted” driving.
By Christine Simoes
Bailey Wind has spent the last eight 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, in 2012. The vehicle Bailey was in careened off the highway and crashed into a tree, killing her boyfriend, Christopher, and her best friend, Deanna. Trapped under the dashboard, Wind drifted in and out of consciousness as emergency crews worked frantically to remove her from the wreckage. She had a broken neck, and all of her front teeth knocked out.
Wind will never forget the pain. She also finds it hard to forgive the driver, Dennis Drue, who will come up for a parole hearing this year. “It’s affected my life in a way that I wouldn’t want to wish upon anybody,” she said of the accident. Wind’s invisible injuries have been difficult to heal. 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 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 Wind 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 struggled with extreme anxiety and constant fears that her family and friends would die. She suffered from depression, and there were times when she could barely get out of bed. Wind remembers “bits and pieces” of being trapped in the vehicle and has been extremely claustrophobic since the accident. She has had 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.
Drue has made frequent appearances in her nightmares. She dreams that she is a passenger in his car as it plummets off a cliff. Drue received a sentence between five to 15 years after pleading guilty to 58 charges. “He’s where he needs to be,” Wind said.
The accident not only took away Wind’s mental outlook, but it also played a part in Wind giving up her dream. Shortly before the accident occurred, Wind signed a 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 extraordinarily supportive and allowed her to keep her spot on the squad. Wind 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 couldn’t do it. I have an old lady’s body.” She suffered from chronic back and neck pain, and the arthritis medication that doctors prescribed offered no relief. It didn’t take long for both Wind 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. She had to come to terms that her dream of becoming an NCAA or SEC champion would 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 stressful and exhausting to relive the accident and its impact consistently, she believer her message 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 continued her healing journey, Bailey received regular and ongoing psychotherapy and took medication for anxiety and depression. Neurofeedback treatments helped her improve her short-term memory, which was impaired after the accident.
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 describes their relationship as well as the accident. School libraries throughout New York 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.”