Richmond teen hurt in wreck wants classmates to wear seat belts

jwarren@herald-leader.comSeptember 30, 2012 

RICHMOND — There are many ways a girl could pass the one-year anniversary of the car wreck that almost ended her life.

She might spend the day pondering every painful moment of the experience. She might throw a party to celebrate her narrow escape. Or she could simply try to forget the whole thing.

Brittany Means, 17, won't do any of that Monday, the anniversary of her horrendous wreck. Instead, the Madison Central High School senior will be busy trying to make sure her classmates never have an experience like hers.

When classes end at the school Monday afternoon, Brittany plans to be in the parking lot, stopping students' cars and making sure every person in every car has a fastened seat belt.

"I wanted to do something to make it a positive day, not a negative day," she said last week. "I wanted to give back."

Brittany, the daughter of David and Stephanie Means, is obsessive when it comes to seat belts.

You see, her belt wasn't fastened Oct. 1, 2011, when she ran off Jacks Creek Road in rural Madison County and struck a tree, breaking her neck in five places and shattering her right leg.

She spent weeks wearing a halo brace, toiled through long hours of physical therapy, missed months of school and had to give up being a Madison Central cheerleader because of her injuries. A year later, she has metal rods in her neck that will remain with her for the rest of her life.

Brittany remembers little about the wreck. She had a helium-filled balloon in the car for her father's birthday celebration and thinks it might have distracted her. Inexperience and overconfidence also might have been factors.

"I was always in a hurry," she said. "Now I just take my time getting places."

The night of the accident, Brittany and a friend were on their way home after visiting with another classmate. Brittany began driving, but didn't fasten her belt. Perhaps 35 seconds later, she lost control of the car.

Brittany's friend, Katie Grant, suffered a shattered kneecap. Brittany was rushed to the University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital with orthopedic injuries so severe that doctors initially weren't sure how to treat her.

She credits her recovery to the many medical professionals who treated and cared for her and helped her through rehabilitation.

"God put all the right people in all the right places," she said.

After Brittany graduates from Madison Central next spring, she'd like to become an occupational therapist, inspired in part by an occupational therapist who treated her at Cardinal Hill Rehabilitation Hospital in Lexington.

She says it would be another way to give back, along with her seat-belt campaign.

"Things could have been a lot different if I'd had my belt on," she said. "But I was the kind of driver who'd get in the car and drive 30 or 40 seconds before remembering to put my belt on."

After Brittany's crash, more than 100 students at Madison Central signed a petition pledging to wear their seat belts. But Brittany is still trying to get the message across.

Some Madison Central teachers and about 40 other students plan to help her Monday afternoon in making sure students have their seat belts fastened before they drive out of the school parking lot.

"You might not think that wearing a seat belt is the coolest thing in the world when you're a teenager," Brittany said, "but it's a lot cooler than being in the hospital for two months, or going through agonizing pain while your friends are out having fun."

Brittany says she hopes other kids will buckle up from now on if they know what she's gone through.

"I would relive that night over and over again," she said, "if it would help save my friends' lives."

Jim Warren: (859) 231-3255.

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