What Happened
by Greg Wright, Father of Stephen Wright

Wreath placed by individuals at WJKM 1090 A.M.

Stephen's Last Day.
In the picture above you can see the dirt mound, the last one Stephen jumped. Since Stephen had many times done stunts much more ambitious than this, I'm sure he would have preferred that his final jump be something a little more impressive. The place where he crashed is in the lower left corner of the picture. Three other kids were with him at the time of the accident. Following is a narrative of what happened on this fatal Thursday, February 8, 2001.

It was a seventy degree day in February, welcome relief from what had started out to be a very difficult winter. As I do on most Thursdays, I worked from home.

For Nan, it was a great home school day. There were no arguments and no problems. Steve stayed at his tasks and was able to finish early. Later that afternoon Nan went for a walk on Harris Branch Road, and Steve rode with her on his bicycle. Steve stayed close by and they had a long and pleasant conversation.

However, during the walk they both almost got mowed down by a careless truck driver. When Nan returned home she seemed to be very shaken up by this.

Let's Go to the Park.
Early in the day Steve asked if we might have time to go to the park. I responded that I needed to work until at least four o'clock, and that it depended on what was going on at the office. "However," I said, "when it gets to be four o'clock, if there are no emails that require me to stay at my desk, we'll go to the park. In fact, why don't you go ahead and load your bicycle in the car so we can leave without delay."

When four o'clock came we were free to go. Steve was so anxious to get there as soon as possible that he made sure I took the short cut via Dalton Hollow. When we arrived I pushed the button to open the rear door of our station wagon. By the time I got out of the car, Stephen had already unloaded his bike.

Looking across the parking lot, he saw three of his friends riding up and down a mound of dirt. In what would be his last words to me he said, "This is great! Not only do I get to ride my bike but I get to be with friends."

I watched as he rode out to join the other guys. Being sort of shy myself, I greatly appreciated the ease with which Steve could join a group, and I looked on with admiration. Noting that he seemed to be accepted by the group, I turned to begin my walk.

The Walk.
After a few steps I stopped and looked again out towards Stephen. Everything looked fine. I walked a few more steps, then turned and looked again. Stephen was riding his bike around the perimeter of the group. I walked further. Finally I came to that point where, if I went any further, a building would block by view of Stephen. I turned for one last look, but I didn't see Stephen. I kept looking. Suddenly I heard a boy say, "I'll go get help." Then I saw a boy in a white shirt lying on the ground.

I raced across the grass. "This couldn't be Stephen," I thought. Stephen didn't have accidents like this. Other than dislocating his arm when he was two years old, Stephen never went to the emergency room for illness or injuries.

But it was Stephen. He was lying face down in a pool of blood. The pool was growing larger and larger. Blood didn't just drip from his nose and mouth; it poured, and there was no way to stop it. Where are the pressure points when the injury is inside the head?

I helplessly waited with Stephen as the remaining kids ran to get assistance. Soon they returned and let me know that an ambulance was on the way. As soon as the ambulance arrived, one of the EMTs radioed for a Life Flight helicopter. A kind lady offered to call my wife for me. I answered general questions about allergies and other such things, then told the EMTs that I was leaving to get my wife. They told me that Stephen would be taken to the hospital in Hartsville, pending arrival of the Life Flight helicopter. I picked up Stephen's bicycle. As I passed by, two boys asked me if he would be okay. I replied that I didn't know. One of them said he was sorry.

I replied, "It's not your fault."

Later it seemed like a dumb thing for me to say. However, when I learned that some of Stephen's friends actually blamed themselves, thinking that the accident wouldn't have happened had they not been there, I was glad I had said, "It's not your fault." I loaded Stephen's bike into the back of the station wagon and headed home to pick up Nan.

Nan's Trial (In Her Own Words.)
Greg had taken Stephen to the park. So while the house was quiet I made some phone calls.

I was having a casual conversation with my mom on the phone when an operator interrupted us. She said, "There is an emergency call for this number. Can you please hang up?"

My mom and I could both hear the operator's voice, so we didn't know who should hang up. I told my mom that I would hang up, and I did. A few seconds later the operator called me back, and I was connected with a woman at the tobacco warehouse across from the park. She told me that Stephen had had an accident. My first thoughts were "broken arm; trip to the ER; broken arms can be fixed." I stayed calm. Then I heard her say, "You need to come to the Trousdale Medical Center. Your son is going to be Life Flighted to Vanderbilt."

When I heard those words I knew my son was in serious trouble. I hung up the phone and panic started to well up within me. I stood up and cried aloud, "Oh God, oh God, what am I going to do?" I had taught my son how to cry out to God in the midst of despair. Now I had to do the same thing.

Dropping to my knees there in front of the couch, I cried out to God and prayed for Stephen. Then I got up and called our church prayer chain. Panic and fear started to grip me, and I started to cry as I talked to Juanita. She tried to calm me down and prayed for me and Stephen over the phone.

I started out for the hospital, but I was very glad to see Greg coming down our road in our station wagon. I was so shaken I knew that I should not drive.

Hospital in Hartsville.
As I passed Nan on Harris Branch Road, she blew her horn at me, then turned around and followed me home. I parked the station wagon, got in the Toyota, and drove Nan to the hospital in Hartsville. By the time we arrived several people from our church were already there. Our two church elders were in Mexico on a missions project, and it was several hours before they could be reached. However, Pastor Kevin Byrd from First Baptist came, stayed with us, and prayed for us.

Serious Injuries.
When the Life Flight crew arrived they told us that Stephen's injuries were very, very serious. They said that he had already been brought back from cardiac arrest and was on assisted breathing. This was when I first realized that we might lose him.

When they got ready to load him onto the helicopter, the nurses brought us out to say goodbye to him. This was the last time we saw him alive.

We went back home to pack up for an overnight stay. Then our friend Dave drove us to Vanderbilt. To encourage each other on the way there we sang the song "It is Well With My Soul."

Arrival at Vanderbilt.
Once we arrived at Vanderbilt we were immediately ushered into a private room where we were told by two ER doctors that Stephen was dead. It was explained that during the helicopter ride Stephen had started bleeding faster than they could pump blood into him. They tried to inject medicine to stop the bleeding, but that didn't work either. They used up all the blood and medicine they had on the helicopter, and Stephen went into cardiac arrest. At the end, they couldn't keep his heart beating for longer than two minutes.

While the doctors broke this news to us, other ER staff gathered our extended family and church friends into another room and gave them the news. When we walked over to join them, they were all seated and crying softly.

Family members and people from our church continued to arrive, so much so that Vanderbilt moved us into a conference room which could accomodate all of us. I am very grateful that they did this for us.

There was one person who stayed with us the whole time. She said she was a hospital social worker, but that title doesn't do her justice. Perhaps angel with flesh would better describe this wonderful, compassionate, and caring individual: God's hands of love in our darkest hour. We feel the same way about the Life Flight nurses. Once they got opportunity they came down and met with us. We were deeply touched by their compassion and care. We will always be grateful to them, not only for their kindness to us, but for their special role in being the last ones to hold Stephen while he was still alive. No doubt there are many EMTs, doctors, and emergency room people who we should thank, as well.

After a while, the social worker took Nan and me to the room where Stephen's body lay. Our friend Rob, who would be ordained as an elder in the next few weeks, went with us. Stephen still had tubes in his nose. I put my hand around his cold, lifeless arm. However, I was reluctant to even look at his face.

Nan held his hand for awhile, then later held and rubbed his feet; those big, bare feet which she had seen almost every day of home schooling.

Because I didn't look at Stephen's face, I wouldn't fully realize the nature of Stephen's accident until I saw his face in the casket. There it was obvious how badly his nose had been broken. Every newspaper that reported Stephen's accident included those ominous words, "He was not wearing a helmet at the time of the accident." I can't make excuses for this; he should have been wearing a helmet. Indeed, if Stephen were still alive, not only would he wear a helmet, but I would glue it to his head. In fact I hope thousands of moms and dads cut the article out of their newspapers and pasted it to their refrigerators so that they could show their kids. I can imagine them pointing this out to their kids and saying, "See, this is why we make you wear a helmet."

But the reality is Stephen landed on his face. Even if he had worn his helmet, it did not have a face guard. He used the helmet with the face guard only for racing. When he did aggressive BMX stunts he normally wore a regular bicycle helmet. That helmet would not have saved his life.

Long Night.
Meanwhile at Vanderbilt, after many phone calls and filling out forms, there was nothing left to do except go back home. Our friends and family stayed with us until we were ready to leave the hospital. Then our friend Dave drove us home. We all retired to begin a long sleepless night. I didn't want to go to sleep. I was afraid of nightmares, dreams of my son lying in that pool of blood. Sleep would not be a welcome friend.

About 3:30 in the morning I walked over to my computer and began typing an email for the Information Systems Division Prayer Team at Lifeway Christian Resources, my employer.

If you wish to read what I said you can click on my email to see a copy. However, what I emailed is not as important as how the folks at Lifeway responded. The email made its way to the guy who would be leading Chapel Friday morning, and he read it at the beginning of the Chapel Service. When I later listened to a recording of that service, I could hear the broken voices of the song leaders as worshipers entered into our grief, and I could feel their determined spirits and faith as they poured out their hearts in worship and praise. They were one people united in worship towards God, and one God inhabiting the praises of his people. Their prayers and praise, joined with those in Hartsville and around the nation, formed a mighty barrier against despair, protecting us during those dark hours.

Surely Satan's kingdom was reeling in disgust. The forces of evil aren't impressed when Christians praise God in good times. But when we can still praise God under trials and testing, God is blessed and Satan must get something resembling a terrible case of indigestion. This set the tone for the days ahead when through a power beyond ourselves, Nan and I were able to trust God.

The main tasks for Friday were as follows:
  1. Call to have Stephen's body moved to Anthony's funeral home in Hartsville.
  2. Make funeral arrangements at Anthony's.
  3. Select a burial plot.
Everything got done, including selecting the burial plot in the middle of a driving rain. Later in the day we found out that our two elders were on the way back from Mexico and would arrive late that evening. When Nan and I met with them we all agreed that the funeral would be evangelistic. It would focus on the urgency of obeying the call of the gospel. We saw Stephen's death as a loaded missile, dropped on the community of Hartsville, calculated to shatter youthful illusions of invulnerability and to force kids to recognize the urgency, not only of getting right with God, but of being ready to leave this life at any time.