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Gone Too Soon
The call came at 11:49 on a Friday night. John Buck and his wife, Jeanette, were anxiously waiting at home for the return of their 17 year old son, Garrett, who had recently got his driver’s license. They were still a bit cautious to let him out at night on his own, but figured it would be fine as long as he was home by the standard 11 o’clock curfew for new drivers. When the clock reached 11 and their son wasn’t home yet, John and Jeanette became a bit worried, but figured he was on his way. As the time passed, they began to get a bit more worried because Garrett had always been a very good and responsible kid. They knew he would never want to risk coming in counter with the law, which could be the case if he got caught driving past curfew.
Sitting on the couch waiting, the couple heard the phone begin to ring. John abruptly answered it. The man on the other end had a deep yet caring voice. He said, “Hello, sir. Are you the parent of Garrett Buck?”
John answered, “Yes, I am. Why, what’s wrong?”
The man responded, “Please stay calm, sir. My name is Officer Kevin Joseph. Your son was hit by a drunk driver. He is in critical condition. He is being medivacced to Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia.”
John dropped the phone and turned to his wife. He was in complete awe. Car crashes were something that happened to someone on the news, not your own son. Looking at his wife’s face, he realized he had to tell her what had happened. As calmly as he could he said, “Honey, we need to go to the hospital. Garrett was in a car accident.” She immediately started sobbing uncontrollably and blubbering about her son. Realizing the police officer was still on the phone, John picked it up and told him they would get to the hospital as soon as possible.
John and Jeanette quickly got in the car and began the 30 minute trip to the hospital, from their home in Gladwyne, Pennsylvania. The entire car ride was silent, both of Garrett’s parents thinking about their son and what could possibly be the outcome of this catastrophe.
When they reached the hospital, John and Jeanette quickly got out of the car and walked into the emergency room. They told the receptionist who they were and she directed them to a room just down the hall. As they approached the room, they were both terrified to see what shape their son was in. As John slowly opened the door, Jeanette began crying again. They walked in and saw their son sleeping on a bed in horrible condition. He was bloody and wrapped in bandages from head to toe. His parents could barely recognize him under all of the blood. His face was swollen and he looked to be in an extreme amount of pain.
As his parents stood and looked at their mangled son, a doctor walked in. He told them that it was necessary to perform surgery on Garrett, but even with that there would be a chance that he wouldn’t make it. He said that he was in critical condition from the accident and was having difficulty breathing. His parents signed the release papers immediately and waited for the surgery to be complete.
After about two hours in the waiting room, the doctor to whom they talked before walked in. He came over to them and said, “Mr. and Mrs. Buck, I am so sorry to tell you this, but your son didn’t make it. He had so much head trauma and lung damage from the crash that it could not be repaired.”
John and Jeanette were in awe. They could not believe that their honor roll student, college bound, responsible son was gone, and for something that wasn’t his fault. They sat in the waiting room and cried for about an hour, and they decided to come home. Again, the drive was silent. All they could think about was that they would never see their son again.
A few months went by after the accident, and the couple decided that they had to do something to educate young teens about drunk driving. After all they had been through, they could not imagine someone else having to go through this and wanted to do whatever they could to prevent that from happening. They decided to make an organization called the Garrett Buck Foundation for Education about Drunk Driving. They used their pain from their loss of their son and turned it into motivation to educate others.
On October 15, 2008, John and Jeanette went on one of their routine trips to a high school to speak to students about drunk driving and making good choices in general. It was at Haverford High School in Havertown, Pa, not far from where they live and where their son went to school. As the students filed into the large auditorium, John and Jeanette spoke to the principal of the school, waiting for everyone to be seated. Once all of the students were seated, the principal got up on the stage and introduced John and Jeanette Buck. The students respectfully applauded as they walked up on the stage.
John Buck looked out among the students in the auditorium and immediately thought of his son who was about their age when he died. He ran his hands along the cold, wooden podium as he prepared to make his speech. He gave a heartwarming and emotional speech about what his family had gone through and what these students could to prevent another family from going through this pain. He talked about thinking about what you were doing before you do it any situation and the students listened attentively. His wife closely behind him, John could hear her quietly crying, as she did every time she thought of her son.
When he was finished with his speech, John heard the heartfelt applause of the students, knowing that they had taken what he said seriously. As the students continued to clap, John and Jeanette walked slowly off the stage, satisfied that they had just made an impact on a large group of students.
After the students were dismissed, Garrett’s parents walked out of the school with the same feeling they got every time they spoke about their son. It was a sad feeling to remember their son who had died before it was his time but gratifying to know that they might have just saved someone else’s life by educating this group students.
For many years, John and Jeanette continued to visit high schools to educate students about drunk driving. They touched many people with their story of the death of their son. They also raised money through donations to grow their foundation to be sure to teach as many people as possible about the horrible crime of drunk driving.
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