Keith

My name is Kandi and I was raised in Edmond with three brothers.  I have one brother three years older than me, his name is Kris.  I have identical twin brothers three years younger than me and their names are Keith and Kyle.  Growing up we fought like most siblings do but knew that when in need we always had each other’s back.

Most little girls about three years old get baby dolls to play with but not me, my mom had the twins and they were my babies.  I adored those boys.  I would do everything I could to “help” with them.  My mom says that I would get up with her in the middle of the night and help feed them.  I very quickly named them bubba and other bubba.  For more years than I am sure they appreciated they were referred to simply as the bubbas.

After graduating from high school, Keith went to OSU and Kyle went to OU.  At the time it was long distance to call from Norman to Stillwater and their phone bills were more than their rent that first semester.  My dad suggested they pick one campus and live together.  They agreed with him that they really did need to be together so Keith moved to Norman.

Thursday, August 17, 1995 – I had a job that I loved, working for a man I greatly admired and was dating the man of my dreams.  It was our one year dating anniversary and I was swelling with anticipation of what might happen that night on our date.  I was sure we would get engaged that night.   As I was getting ready for work that morning I was watching the morning news.  The anchor began to describe a fatality wreck at I-35 and Main Street in Norman.  What caught my attention was the car in that wreck was the same model car my boyfriend drove.  Thoughts of horror started racing through my mind.  Did my boyfriend have a reason to be in Norman that night?  As the camera man zoomed in on the car I realized it had a different color interior than my boyfriend’s car and I felt a huge relief.   The anchor said the name of the deceased was not being released because the family had not yet been notified.

When I got to work there was a frantic call from my little brother Kyle at 7:20 in the morning.  All he said was “Call me as soon as you can.  I am at dad’s house.”  I could tell something was wrong by his voice.  Why was Kyle at dad’s house I wondered – it was Thursday and he should be in Norman that early in the morning.  I immediately called my dad’s house and as soon as Kyle answered the phone he began crying.  He told me Keith had been killed last night in a drunk driving wreck at I-35 and Main Street in Norman.  I screamed.  Surely this was not the wreck Angie had been talking about this morning.  I had seen the car and it was demolished. 

My birthday is the week before Keith died.  My brothers took me out to dinner a few days later to celebrate my birthday.  We had such a great evening and during dinner Keith produced a gift.  He was sitting across from me smiling from ear to ear so sure I would love it.  The card said Happy birthday, KB, I love you.  From Keith ONLY.  He was so proud that he had saved his money and he alone had bought me this gift.  It was a camera.  Not just a camera, he had it loaded with film and batteries so we could document my birthday party.  The first picture I took was of him sitting in front of me with the most beautiful smile.

That night on our way home I was driving and Keith was sitting behind me.  He asked if we could listen to one of his newest CDs.  He was a music buff and always had new music for us.  I obliged and he asked if we could go to song number four, named River.  We listened to River and he sang at the top of his lungs, music loud, windows down – it was a beautiful close to a memorable evening.  I found it odd he would love such a song and I will tell you a small quote from the song.

Young and strong beautiful one

That we embraced so close

Is gone, was torn away

Let the youth of America mourn

Include him in their prayers

Let his image linger on

Repeat it everywhere

There were candles and flowers

He was one of ours.

I will never forget that night.  That was the last time I saw him alive.  He left the CD in my car and told me to keep it.  He died three days later.  When I got in my car to drive home after learning of his death that song was playing.

The night before he died, Keith called me.  He was packing his bags to go to Mexico the next day with some friends.  He visited longer than I really wanted to visit.  I had laundry to do and we didn’t have cordless phones at that time.  I am so very thankful I had that talk with him.  Before he hung up the phone he said, I love you and I will call you next week when I get back home.  I never heard his voice again.

After my conversation with Keith on that night, he and a friend named Jay who was also going to Mexico decided they would go out after getting packed.  There were five of them that were buddies and lived in a duplex.  They had an agreement.  There was always a designated driver and they rotated being the driver.  Everybody got to go out and have fun and get home safely.  That night Jay was the driver.  For some reason they decided to drive into Oklahoma City.  They hung out for a few hours and then headed back to Norman.  Keith had been drinking because it was not his night to drive.  Jay had gone against their vow and chose to drink that night too.  As they loaded back into Jay’s car I don’t think Keith realized that Jay had also been drinking and was drunk.

They made it almost home.  They were less than one mile from their house when Jay lost control of his car, crossed the median and was t-boned on my little brother’s side of the car by a semi-truck going almost 80 mph.  To say that Keith’s body was crushed does not give it justice.  Jay walked away with a broken ankle because my brother’s body protected him from the majority of the impact.

My mother insisted on an open casket.  The funeral home did the best they could to get him in a presentable form.  There he was lying in the suit he was supposed to wear in December when he graduated from OU.  I went earlier than public visiting hours so I could spend some time alone with him.  I stood in the room looking at him in total disbelief.  I finally leaned in, gave him one last kiss on the cheek and said one last time “I love you, bubba” and I have never seen my brother again.

I eventually married that man of my dreams and we have three kids.  My kids will never have the opportunity to meet their Uncle Keith.  He would have undoubtedly been the coolest of all their uncles.  My son is named after him.  When we go to the cemetery and clean his grave we all put a penny on the letter in his name that coincides with the first letter in our name.  It makes me sad to be there but it’s the only way I can still “take care” of my brother.

Not a day goes by that I don’t think about him.  Every day on my way to work I pass the restaurant where we celebrated my birthday that night.  Every evening on my way home from work I pass the cemetery where he is buried.  It’s so difficult to bear some days.  When asked how many siblings I have how do I respond?  How would you respond if it was your brother or sister?

I am here today talking to you because this tragedy was 100% preventable.  Jay could have called a taxi, he could have called Kyle, there are so many other ways they could have gotten home rather than him making the choice to drive drunk.  His choice took my little brother’s life. 

I hope that if you are faced with this choice again you will choose another alternative of getting home.