Billy Long attended his best friend's funeral in a wheelchair with his head stapled together. He was recovering from a punctured lung. Six screws reconnected his right wrist to the rest of the arm.
He had left the hospital without the staff's blessing, saying it wasn't an option to miss his friend's service.
He rubbed his hand along the side of the casket and said goodbye to Tyler Ford, his friend since he was 5.
The details of his accident in 2005 are blurry. Long remembers waking up in the hospital and seeing family members everywhere and trying to put his mother's mind at ease by telling her over and over he would be OK. And he remembers being disgusted when his brother held up a mirror to show him what the crash had done to his 17-year-old face and body.
But Long said what he will remember forever was the look on everyone's face when he asked how Tyler was doing.
“My mother and brothers left the room and a friend stayed and told me that Tyler didn't make it,” Long said. “I just remember how one minute we were hanging out being kids, and the next he was gone.”
When Long lost control of his Ford Mustang going nearly 100 mph on Interstate 40 in eastern Oklahoma County, the car skidded across the median and slammed head first into an oncoming Ford Expedition. Long was thrown nearly 200 feet. Ford died on impact.
A highway patrol trooper who worked the scene said the car “just disintegrated.”
“It was ignorance and being young and speeding,” Long said. “There is not a day that goes by that I don't think about Tyler and think about what could've been.”
Death is nearly a daily occurrence on Oklahoma highways and county roads, according to the Oklahoma Highway Safety Office.
In the first 114 days of 2013, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol reported 113 fatalities. Nearly one-fourth of those crashes occurred on five highways — Interstate 44, Interstate 35, Interstate 40, U.S. 77 and State Highway 51.
The highway patrol reported 699 people died in wrecks in 2012, with the majority of those crashes on highways.
Mills Gotcher, a spokeswoman with the state Transportation Department, said the state's goal for 2013 is to lower that number to 685.
“We try to encourage people to buckle up and drive safe, but of course accidents happen,” she said. “People need to drive to get places and unfortunately not everybody drives safe. It's almost unavoidable.”
Menecca McHone drives past mile marker 147 on I-35 in southern Logan County twice a day on her way to and from work. Each time, she thinks of her husband, Jeremiah.
In January 2012, Jeremiah McHone, 28, was heading home when the tire on the work truck he was driving blew out. McHone overcorrected, and the box truck slammed into the cable barrier and rolled into the southbound lane, killing him instantly.
“We would always take the same route home, and he would always call me and ask ‘What's for dinner?'” Menecca McHone said. “I didn't get a call from him that day.”
McHone, 30, said she had taken the couples' three children to visit her dad, and on the way home she got a call from Jeremiah's best friend.
“He told me to pull over, and he just started crying,” she said. “The Guthrie police met me at a gas station and told me my husband had been in a wreck and that he didn't make it.”
McHone still is struck by how quickly her family's life changed. Her children lost a great dad and she lost her best friend.
“I didn't have a normal family life growing up, and I wanted my kids to have that sense of normal,” she said. “Everything just changed so fast, and I had to adapt for my kids. It's been incredibly tough.”
Dealing with loss
After Ford's death, Long felt compelled to let others know about the dangers and stupidity of making poor choices while driving.
He helped with a leadership program at Ada High School that preached safe driving. He told his story to students at every school in the district, making sure that his name and Ford's name would be remembered in a positive light.
“I just wanted some kind of positive out of this,” he said.
“If we even helped one student drive safer through our program then it was worth it.”
McHone said family and friends asked her if she wanted a roadside memorial for Jeremiah to be placed where his accident occurred.
“We talk about him and tell stories and remember his laugh,” she said.
“That road is not where he is or where he would want to be.”
My mother and brothers left the room and a friend stayed and told me that Tyler didn't make it. I just remember how one minute we were hanging out being kids, and the next he was gone.”
Long's best friend,