2017-04-19 / Featured

Real example paints vivid picture

By Maria D. Grandy
Courier-Times Staff Writer

Ashley Underhill speaks to students at Roxboro Community School about the dangers of distracted driving. She stands in front of the tailgate of her late brother’s truck, which bears the signatures of 2,500 friends and family members 
KELLY SNOW | courier-times Ashley Underhill speaks to students at Roxboro Community School about the dangers of distracted driving. She stands in front of the tailgate of her late brother’s truck, which bears the signatures of 2,500 friends and family members KELLY SNOW | courier-times Standing in front of the juniors and seniors of Roxboro Community School on Tuesday, wearing her sash and tiara, Ashley Underhill looked the part of a beauty queen. But she wasn’t there to talk about her pageant dreams or accomplishments. She was there to talk with students about the importance of safe driving.

Ollie Jeffers, president of the Person, Caswell and Durham counties chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, invited Underhill to speak with the students to help bring awareness of safe driving to the county.

Underhill, a native of Hillsborough, is the current Miss Eastern North Carolina and will be competing in the Miss North Carolina pageant later this year.

Her platform, Choices for Chase, is personal to her. William Daniel “Chase” Underhill, is her younger brother. He was killed in a speed racing competition on December 29, 2012 in Hurdle Mills.

She shared her story with the students in hopes they will make the right choices on prom night, which is this Saturday. She hopes Chase’s story will cause them to think twice before texting and driving or drinking and driving.

Reliving the wrec k

The night the crash occurred her family had just returned from what she described as the best family vacation ever.

Chase Underhill said he was going for a ride. But after not hearing from him for a couple of hours, the family started to think something wasn’t right.

“We just had this feeling. As I am standing here explaining this feel- ing to you all I hope you never have to experience that feeling of knowing that something is wrong and not only is something wrong but you don’t know what it is and it’s coming,” she said.

Returning home from a trip to Raleigh with her mother, Ashley Underhill said they received a call letting them know there’d been an wreck about two miles from their home in Rougemont.

At that point they knew it was her brother but were not sure how serious it was. Ashley Underhill’s father works with Emergency Management Services (EMS) and told them the wreck involved a white truck and that one person was airlifted to Duke University

Medical Center and another person was in the ambulance.

Becoming emotional, she talked about getting the phone call from her stepmother, saying three words, “Ashley he’s gone.”

Seven teenagers including Chase decided to street race, four people in his truck and three in the other. After some altercations between the two drivers, one of the passengers in Chase’s truck, said, “why don’t you just race?”

They were words that would change so many lives forever.

Both drivers agreed to race on a two lane road with Chase in the left lane. Chase and his passengers decided not to wear seat belts. There were only three seat belts in the Ford F150 Super Duty truck and four people.

Ashley Underhill talked about how there was a false start to the race, so they had to start over. She saw that as a chance to walk away. They did not know the implications their decision would have.

“Now four years later, we have to stand up here as a family begging you to wear your seat belts, to be safe,” she said.

“I know that prom is an exciting time and you’re going to having memories, I hope that you will cherish forever. But this weekend while it’s other night, it’s also another night we know there will be activities happening. But when you have the opportunity to make choices, to not drink and drive, to wear your seatbelt, to take care of your friends who are drinking, please call somebody. Please take the punishment from your parents.”

She told the students it will be a lot easier for their parents to go get them than for them to be six feet under.

Although her brother was not drinking and driving, he did make a choice.

“The choice to not take care of the three other people in his car, killing the girl next to him. I have to remember everyday that he did decided to not be responsible as the driver,” she said. She also wishes one of the other six people would have just said stop.

“Who knew the other truck would push my little brother? Who knew he would overcorrect? That 85 miles an hour was not going to be good?”

She reminded the students to remember when they are behind the wheel they aren’t alone. Besides the memories of the night her brother’s best friend shares, she also has the tailgate of her brother’s truck that was knocked when he hit the tree.

She carries it with her, when she speaks. There are over 2,500 signatures of her brother’s friends on the tailgate. They signed it at his wake.

Those signatures are a reminder that the family members were not the only people affected by his choices.

“I think if he had the chance to do it over again he wouldn’t, if he knew all these people loved him.”

More decisions to make

Students Against Drunk Driving advisor Kara Roberts said she hopes Underhill’s comments will make a difference for students at the school.

“As we approach prom weekend, we hope that students will pause and reflect on their future and make choices that will enable them to see that future it its fruition,” Roberts said.

Roberts also said it didn’t take her long to realize crash was a few miles from her house and how many of her friends were greatly affected. She also said Ashley Underhill’s message is one that is so important for the students to hear.

Roberts said after hearing the message some students have said they will be less likely to engage in distracted driving or make decisions on the road that could have deadly consequences in the future.

Underhill said knowing that at least one person will think twice about their decisions after hearing her story helps her to keep sharing it.

“That raw emotion, that very personal show of this is what it looks like, hoping that someone will listen,” she said. “Just one person. That one can reach thousands.”

Her older brother, Chad Wilkins, mother, April Davis and father Kevin Underhill have made Choices for Chase a family affair. They each speak to the public about Chase, the organization and making better choices.

Although they share the pain of losing him, each one of them has a different perspective of the incident, hoping to have the same result.

“We all bring something different but we all do it as a family.”

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