GREENEVILLE -- Whitney Broome usually buckled up. But on Feb. 10, she didn’t, and she paid the ultimate price for it – her life.
Whitney -- a vivacious, 17 year old who was known for her constant smile and upbeat disposition -- was killed in a car accident barely a mile from her home.
Whitney was in a hurry that morning, driving her younger sister, MacKenzie, to junior high school before heading to class herself.
The two sisters got in the car, buckled up, and backed out of the driveway at their Johnson City home. But, Whitney suddenly realized she wasn’t wearing socks and would need them for a weightlifting class later in the day. She left the car running, ran back inside the house to get the socks, got back in the car and headed on to school. This time, however, she forgot to buckle up.
A few seconds later, as she topped a hill, she collided with an on-coming car. Whitney apparently jerked the wheel, in a panic response, which caused the car to flip, and eject Whitney from the vehicle. Rescue workers were called immediately, as was Whitney’s mother, Debbie Cook, who was still at home just down the street.
Together, a shaken MacKenzie and a terrified Debbie – along with her husband, Ron -- watched helplessly as emergency personnel performed CPR on Whitney, before whisking her away in an air ambulance.
Whitney was pronounced dead at the hospital, although she likely had died at the scene.
Today, more than two months after her tragic death, her family and friends are left to find meaning in what seems to be a meaningless death.
“It’s still so painful,” Debbie said, tears rolling off her cheeks. “I go through days where I pretend everything’s still OK. There’s just such a void. I feel so incomplete. I just long to hold her again. People need to know what pain and sorrow this can cause you. They need to always buckle up – even if it’s just down the street.”
In the hopes that something good will come from something indescribably horrible, a seat belt campaign has been started called “Whitney’s Promise.” MacKenzie and her friends created the program in honor of Whitney and as a way to keep Whitney’s memory alive.
Whitney’s friends at Science Hill High School soon jumped on the bandwagon, passing out bumper stickers and signing pledges to always buckle up.
Now the program is spreading, and is being shared with teens in Greene County, where Whitney had a lot of friends, as well.
Whitney’s Promise will be presented -- along with the annual “Breaking Hearts, Breaking Lives – Drinking and Driving” program -- at North Greene High School April 30 at 10 a.m. and at South Greene High School May 7 at 8 a.m. This “reality” program, which was created by Takoma Adventist Hospital, was taken to Chuckey-Doak High School April 23.
The program features speakers from Takoma Hospital, the Greene County Sheriff’s Department, the Greeneville Emergency & Rescue Squad, Greene County-Greeneville Emergency Medical Services, Wings Air Rescue, and Kiser Funeral Home.
“We got the idea for this program about four years ago,” Lynette Patterson, director of community relations at Takoma Hospital, said. “Our ER nurses were talking one day, saying how they dreaded the upcoming prom and graduation season, because, historically, one child in Greene County was killed every year at this time. Based on those discussions, the nurses decided to do something to help remind the high school students about the dangers of drinking and driving. From there, this reality program was begun.”
Since its inception, not a single teen has been killed in Greene County during prom and graduation season, Patterson noted, proudly.
This will mark the first year that the “don’t drink and drive” program has been combined with the “buckle up” program in Greene County.
“We want to save as many lives as possible,” added Cook, an RN and director of Outcomes Management at Takoma Hospital.
Statistically, teen-age drivers are most at-risk for vehicle accidents, and they also are least likely to wear seat belts. From 1995 to 2000, only about 24 percent of teens in fatal accidents in Tennessee buckled up. Furthermore, Tennessee is the 11th worst state in the nation for auto fatalities, and Greene County is one of the very worst counties.
Debbie said she takes solace from this new program. “If it will help save just one life, then it’s worth it,” Debbie said. “It’s hard to imagine how many lives Whitney’s death has touched. I really enjoy hearing from her friends and the memories they share with me. I feel so proud that Whitney impacted so many lives.”