Thursday, April 13, 2006
Kuehl shares story of tragedy to influence young people
By SUE WATSON
Nine years ago Greg Kuehl lost his wife, young daughter and unborn son needlessly because of a drunk driver. Since then Kuehl, the son-in-law to Channel 5 weatherman Dave Brown, and Brown himself have told their stories in the hope of saving lives of youngsters as they prepare for Prom Night and for life.
He was guest speaker at Byhalia High School, Friday, and urged juniors and seniors to pay attention and prepare for life’s tests.
Kuehl makes a living doing videos and commercials in Memphis.
“I don’t make my living doing this, but I do this for you and this country,” he said. “So, I hope you listen today and take it to heart, for you and your families. You will be tested. Life is a series of pop quizzes.”
Kuehl spoke of the decisions people make that sometimes are destructive, like the decision of the man who ran into his wife Stefanie’s Saturn on the way to serve weekend time for his second DUI. The man was legally drunk when he crossed over from his lane into the lane of oncoming traffic, his Nissan Maxima slamming into his wife’s car at an estimated 85 miles per hour.
He spoke of the way people don’t take bad news on television to heart. He said wrecks always happen to the other guy, someone else’s family.
He also urged that people remember every day to hug their loved ones and tell them they love them.
Kuehl said he often put off celebrating family activities to work, that leading up to one of his wife of five year’s last phone calls, both of them forgot to say “I love you” - something they always had done. They even had worked out a way to leave each other an S.O.S. message on the telephone in case of emergency.
Kuehl and Stef were the proud parents of a six and a half-month-old daughter Zadie.
The day Kuehl lost his wife, child and unborn son, he had made several phone contacts with Stef, who was getting the oil changed in her car. Before the deadly accident Stef had used the S.O.S. just to say she was going to test-drive a new car. She and the baby were O.K.
That evening they had planned to have a rehearsal dinner for the wedding of Stef’s sister. Kuehl had gone home and found a message on the answering machine left by Stef to remind herself to not forget to string cans to go on the newlyweds’ car.
At 7:30 p.m. Kuehl got the fateful message of his wife’s death from a Tennessee State Trooper.
“There has been a wreck and your wife is dead,” the trooper said.
Kuehl described his emotions as he went from there to the wedding rehearsal to deliver the news, to the morgue to identify his wife’s body, to the hospital to wait days only to have Zadie die.
He didn’t leave out any of the details in his story.
He passed around photos of his wife and child for students to look at, if they wanted.
One of the photos was taken two weeks before Father’s Day, a gift from Stef. His wife was unable to present him with the photo of herself and Zadie. Both were dead.
Kuehl described how tough it was to tell Stef’s parents about the accident, how horrible it felt to go home to an empty house - no wife, no child.
He urged students to not make destructive decisions: to not joy ride, or drink and drive, or become a designated driver for friends who are drinking, or ride with friends who are drinking.
He described how it felt to be with Zadie at LeBohneur hearing nothing could be done for her and seeing on the television monitor there his wife’s car.
“Suddenly, I had become the other guy,” he said.
He was going home to an empty home but it contained all his deceased loved ones’ stuff. One of the things he has kept is an eight-foot tall mirror with Zadie’s hand print on it. He also kept the first message his wife left him on his phone that day.
She said, “Greg, don’t erase this message. I just want to remind myself to string cans together for Carmen’s wedding.”
Carmen is Brown’s second daughter.
Kuehl had all his insurance money on himself, the breadwinner, to provide for his wife and children in case of his own death. He was 10 years older than she, he said. It seemed the sensible thing to do.
He had to pick the clothes for his wife and child’s funeral, a plaid jumper for her and a black, long-sleeved shirt to conceal the injuries on her arms. Zadie was buried with Stef in her mother’s arms in a plaid dress which was to be a Christmas gift.
Kuehl described what he calls “the year first.”
That year you learn how many holidays you have to celebrate that you can’t, he said.
Some of the students in his audiences are already dead, “likely because somebody didn’t care,” he said.
“You go through something like this and it’s never over,” Kuehl said. “You get through it but you never get over it. I’m the other guy. I’ll guarantee you there is unlimited membership.
“You are here and have to make decisions whether its drinking, sex or drugs. Think about it real hard and be a part of the solution, not the problem.
“Everything you do in life affects somebody else in even a small way. Somebody grew that food you eat, stitched your clothes. Do you want to have a positive impact on those around you, or to be that person who hates the day you were born? The athlete in a wheelchair who has to go back and start all over and learn to walk again?
“The choice is yours. It’s your responsibility. Realize each of you is an important individual who has a reason for being here, the potential to really make somebody happy, to make life worth living. You also have the ability to ruin your life or somebody else’s life.
“What will you wish in a month, a year or five years from now that you should have done today? When you go home tonight, do me a favor. Go up to your loved ones and do something I can no longer do. Go up and hug ’em and tell ’em you love ’em.”
Kuehl estimates he has spoken to 100,000 school students since he decided to share his story. He has spoken in schools in Mississippi, Arkansas and Tennessee.
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