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Shattered Dreams: Stephanie Collings in Car Wreck (Courtesy of DaimlerChrysler and MADD)

Photo exhibit emphasizes teen drunk driving consequences

by Jessica Howell

"I remember waking up every morning and for a minute, expecting to see my mom there,” says Stephanie Collings, survivor of a car crash that killed her mother in Tyler, Texas.

After the Crash Display (Courtesy of DaimlerChrysler and MADD)

Dealing with the trauma of her own serious injuries and the death of her parent were challenging enough for 17-year old Collings, however, the sting was worsened by the fact that the family car accident had been caused by the carelessness of a teenage girl high on methamphetamine.

“We just felt like no one understood,” says Collings quietly, a tear sliding down her face as she describes handling the aftermath of the crash with her older sister, Amy.

Amy, married and saving to build a new home, took on the role of caretaker for her sister, who was told she may never walk again. Quitting her job for over a year, Amy watched her and her husband’s savings slowly dwindle until the idea of a new house was a distant dream.

Seeking something as simple as the sound of an understanding voice, Amy found Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and met a victim advocate who was able to advise her and her sister through the legal process of obtaining financial assistance.

Stephanie, whose bones are held together by metal rods, is standing in front of a small audience of journalists at Chrysler’s headquarters in Michigan as she tells her and her family's story. Emotionally-strained, yet courageous and proud, she’s sharing her drama so that other teens might realize the deep pain that so often accompanies senseless, late-night decisions to drive drunk or under the influence of drugs.

“I want [teens] to know that the consequences of their decisions are very real and very far-reaching,” Collings says.

The flicker of camera bulbs are softly reflecting from her as she gives a weak smile and walks away from the podium. Behind where she stood, an image is frozen in time – Stephanie sitting among the ruins of a wrecked car, her gaze filled with the memory of a million nightmares.

The image, stretching nearly 12 feet high, is part of a series of ten photographs by Pulitzer finalist Jeffrey Lamont Brown that will travel the nation as an exhibit appearing during weekends in local malls – a prime spot for eager teenage eyes.

Featuring ten stories of individuals and families affected by teenage drunk driving, the exhibit, entitled “After the Crash,” is sponsored by MADD and Chrysler as a way to teach teens awareness before they’re faced with potentially life-threatening decision making.

From a teen who killed his best friend while driving under the influence, to a mother whose grief "is never-ending," After the Crash takes a personal glimpse into shattered lives that might otherwise be overlooked.

Empowering for victims, and enlightening for the rest of us, it's an exhibit that speaks to every driver - everywhere.