One man is telling the story of his tragic accident to encourage teenagers to think twice about unsafe driving habits.
In 2009, when Gabe Hurley was 24 years old, his car was hit by another vehicle that was full of teenagers. The driver had gotten his license less than a month earlier. Hurley lost his eyesight, his sense of smell and has impaired taste. He has had a dozen reconstructive surgeries on his face.
Now, Hurley speaks publicly about the accident and his journey in presentations such as the one at the Lower Cape May Regional High School on March 11. Hoping to inspire hundreds along the way, he uses a medium that has aided his own recovery - playing the guitar.
Hurley has played the guitar since the sixth grade and is a member of a band called The New Black. Hurley uses his skill to connect with teenagers on a level that he thinks exceeds what his speeches alone could do.
"(Playing the guitar) is a way of involving students and engaging them and making things fun," Hurley said. "I've met so many speakers that do what I do, but I think I'm very skilled, and that allure is appealing."
The only body part that Hurley technically "broke" in the accident was his left hand, so it took him a few months to relearn to play the guitar. But the skill did come back, thanks to a wealth of muscle memory.
At the high school, Hurley played a medley of anthems and popular songs that the students would recognize.
The idea is that students might be driving and hear on the radio a song that Hurley played. And then, Hurley hopes, they will remember what happened to him, and be safe in the car.
"Music has a way of bringing back feelings and emotions," Hurley said. "If (a teenager) is driving and they hear that Usher song that I played, they might think of me and my story."
Senior Veronica Holmes, 17, has her license. She said that Hurley's story has inspired her to drive safely.
"The visuals (in the presentation) just made it a reality," Holmes said. "It was harder to sit through and fathom."
For example, Holmes said she knows taking her time on the road could potentially save people from a terrible accident.
"It makes you think twice," she said.
The day before the presentation, Holmes set up a Facebook page "LCMR Wants you Alive," and a Twitter account that she hopes will reach teenagers who might have unsafe driving habits.
LCMR High School was awarded a $1,000 stipend from the Brain Injury Alliance to help with the safe-driving campaign.
"You have to understand that your actions can have severe consequences on yourself and those around you," Hurley told the students during his presentation. "The driver that did this to me took away a lot."
Although he does want to show teenagers the consequences of unsafe driving, Hurley said that if he could convey one message to the students, it would be "life is what you make it."
Check out Hurley's band at Facebook.com/TheNewBlackNJ.
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