By Haylee Pence
CASSTOWN — Miami East High School juniors and seniors heard a presentation from Carl Kraley, a youth speaker, on the impact that drinking and driving had on his life to wrap up the high school’s Prom Safety Week.
Kraley explained his story, which involved his best friend Jason Balcom, who he met at his part-time job, fresh out of high school while he was taking classes at a local community college. After his freshman year of college, Kraley decided to transfer to Michigan State University. In celebration, Balcom wanted to give Kraley a “going-away party.”
“I was a careful kid. I didn’t do anything that was dangerous or stupid. I was anything but careful that night,” Kraley said to the audience.
Kraley and Balcom had started the night off with a beer, which led to another, and then more.
Kraley said that he had told himself that night, “Live a little. Stop being so uptight. Have a little fun man.”
He said his last memory of that night was of himself and Balcom dancing at a bar with two girls. Kraley cannot remember the crash or anything after until he was in the emergency room. According to Kraley, he had to read the crash report and talk with some of the first responders who arrived on scene. Kraley said he had driven himself and Balcom onto an exit ramp, going the wrong way, making it over 100 feet before hitting another car head-on.
Kraley spoke about friends that had driven by the crash saying “’I don’t think anybody survived that crash.’”
Kraley sustained several injuries including three dislocations in one foot and damage to his face. Balcom did not survive.
He remembered waking up in an emergency room that was brightly lit.
“I was gripped with a fear and despair I can’t even describe,” said Kraley. “I have never, ever been as scared as I was in that moment.”
Kraley briefly described how there was blood everywhere from his injuries which required surgeries.
Following his surgeries, he woke up in a hospital room surrounded by family, including his mother, father, older siblings and their spouses, and his girlfriend.
He talked about Balcom’s parents and their reaction to the crash, who supported and didn’t blame Kraley for what had happened.
“Jason’s mom showed nothing but compassion and love day just hours after losing her only son because of me,” said Kraley.
Following his hospital stay, a warrant was issued for his arrest and Kraley turned himself in.
“My parents spent every penny to bail me out of jail,” said Kraley.
During his time between arraignment and sentencing, Kraley spent his time attending Michigan State University taking classes while also balancing court hearings, doctor’s visits, and more surgeries.
“I was not going to let the accident define me or break me,” Kraley said while talking about receiving a 3.7 GPA and obtaining a Dean’s List distinction.
Kraley was sentenced to 2.5 years in prison.
“I was in shock. Six months earlier, I had everything going for me,” said Kraley.
After two years in prison, Kraley was released with two years of parole.
“Every decision I made that night kept getting worse. That night was entirely preventable,” he said.
He encouraged the Miami East High School students to enjoy their prom night; one of the best nights of their lives.
“Please don’t do something to make it the worst night of your life or someone else’s,” finished Kraley.
To the adults in the community, Kraley wants to encourage them to help teach the younger generation to understand the consequences of their actions and decisions along with how to overcome adversity.
“Learning how to overcome adversity is tied to success in life,” said Kraley.
Kraley’s presentation was hosted by the Miami East FFA Safety Committee including advisor, Marie Carity, along with Deputy Wesley Kilby.
The Safety Committee consists of five students, including senior Keyara Davis, 18, of Troy.
Davis joined the committee because of her interest in keeping her classmates safe.
“We have not only worked hand and hand together, but we managed to have a whole week based on safety for our students here at Miami East, hoping to prevent any casualties from irresponsible driving that could have been avoided,” said Davis.
She continued, “The hard work for this week would not have been accomplished without the help of the Safety Committee, Deputy Kilby, Mr. Peterson for helping with setups, and our agriculture Teacher Mrs. Carity. We are most grateful for Mr. Gentis for giving us the ability to host our guest, Carl Kraley.”