By: Tracy Reynolds
My daughter, Samantha Lynn Reynolds, was 14 years old when her life was taken by a drunk driver. She had spunk and sass, and was eager for the future in high school. She attended Soule Road Middle School in Liverpool, NY and participated in many sports. She was a very athletic girl who loved lacrosse, diving, cheerleading and gymnastics.
Samantha was a very emotional teenager with normal teenage issues … what clothes to wear… where she was going to be after school… and drama, drama, drama. I called her my “drama queen” sometimes, but she was always my “Scooby Doo.” She was just starting to come out of her shell and just starting to spread her wings. She was looking forward to her first trip to Florida and of course her first time at Disney World for spring break.
Samantha treasured her friends. She was always with them when she wasn’t in school or with her family. Her friends would say she was the life of the crowd and was always making people laugh. She had a sense of humor; she was kind, giving and very loveable. She made the bad days seem good.
Samantha loved her family. Family Sunday dinners were always her favorite. She loved going to North Carolina, camping in the Adirondacks, and visiting theme parks. Samantha and her sister, Renee, and brother, Anthony, did almost everything together. Her favorite holidays were Fourth of July, Halloween and Christmas. She even attended Sunday school.
Samantha loved taking pictures of herself, hoping one day to be a model.
All of this was taken from us on April 12, 2008 when a drunk driver made a solid CHOICE to get behind the wheel of a vehicle under the influence of alcohol. On a stretch of I-95 in Clarendon County, South Carolina, he sideswiped two vehicles, picked up speed, and then sideswiped my family’s van.
My daughter, Samantha Lynn Reynolds, was ejected and died at the scene. My son had a lacerated liver with shattered glass in his face and required 50 stitches to his knee. My other daughter, Renee, had bleeding on her brain and a sprained ankle. My kids’ stepmother was crushed from head to toe and received critical injuries. Their father and two other passengers had minor injuries. THEN the driver slammed head-on into another New York family’s van. The Griffins were also traveling to Florida on their spring vacation.
A local newspaper reported that my daughter was pronounced dead at the scene and that 13 people, including the drunk driver, were injured in the crash.
When I received the phone call around 5 a.m. that morning, I NEVER NEVER thought I would have been having that conversation. I was told on the phone that Sam had not made it, and that I had to drive 750 miles from Onondaga County to pick up the rest of the family and bring them back home.
Once I arrived at Palmetto Hospital in South Carolina, I was directed to the MICU unit where I found my son, Anthony Roscoe, and my children’s stepmother, Brenda Mauro. It is still very difficult for me to deal with the reality of trying to comfort my son who had just witnessed his sister’s death. I could not make it better or make it go away.
Renee, my other daughter, was on a completely different floor than the rest of the family. Renee’s room was around the corner from a passenger in the other van, Ashley Griffin. Ashley, also age 14, had a lacerated liver, a fractured eye socket and other injuries.
I remember that while I was down in the South Carolina to pick up the rest of the family, I received a call from a modeling agency in Florida looking to interview Samantha to model for them.
This one horrifying day changed the lives of so many. Many others who were traveling that day stopped and got out of their vehicles to try to help. The Griffin family and our family have since met at the cemetery where Samantha was laid to rest.
Samantha was loved by so many. I did not realize how many lives she touched until the days we spent having to say goodbye.
Since the crash, our home and family have been destroyed. As her mom, I am very lost. My home is quiet with no more friends to come over and hang out and call me ‘Mom.’ I am left with only pictures and memories of what once was. Her room is now closed off and left untouched. Every now and then, we go in there to reminisce about her life and try to make sense of all that has happened.
Living without Samantha is, and always will be, the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. Even years later, I cry every night. Her crash site is now my vacation spot where I monitor a cross I placed there in her memory. I visit Samantha’s gravesite often.
My life is not the same, nor will it ever be. I could go on for days and days about my suffering if it would help. My struggles are forever. They cannot be erased or forgotten about, and there is no moving on. My life, and the lives of countless others, were forever altered that day.
I struggle with how to make sense or how to give my daughter’s death meaning… Lord knows, I would give my life just to hear her voice or see her smile. But as I know this will never happen, I try to figure out how I can bring awareness and justice to all those drivers who force families like ours to deal with this kind of tragedy.