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 Grad Tragedy

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27 years ago this year .... In the blink of an eye, two of these men died and the third just a few short hours later .... Our graduation night party ended in disaster ....  Alcohol had again taken its toll and claimed 3 more victims .... Our friends were "drowning" that night .... Phil Collins song "In the Air Tonight" played on the radio multiple times that day, it's lyrics echoing in our minds in the weeks and months that followed ....

Instead of going to the graduation party with the 3 men above, one of my best friends and I instead partied with classmates not attending the "official" party.  He would have been in the car with them had we not gone our separate ways, as he was very close friends with all of these guys since 2nd grade and in fact lived within 100 yards of each of them on the same street.  I lived on the next street over.  Keith might also have been driving them that night, as he had a drop dead gorgeous blue '74 Camaro he had restored to new. 

Instead we went out and then crashed at my house after an evening of celebrating with others not attending the official graduation party.  I lived with my Mom at that time, just age 18.  The next day Keith and I got up and headed to his house so he could change and we could get on with our day.  All 3 of the men above lived on the same street, their homes forming a triangle on this street, the same street Keith lived on also.  His house was outside of the triangle but these were his best friends growing up.  He had played on the same baseball and football teams as these guys and lived within a half mile of them nearly all of his life.

The next day when we arrived on Keith's street, a residential street with homes on both sides of the road, there was not a single parking spot on either side of the street all the way up to the top of the street.  It was a sea of cars.  We were still waking up and thought what the hell is going on.  Never had we seen so many cars.  When we got halfway up to the street to Greg's white house, we noticed Greg's dad on the porch and a small crowd of people milling about the houses talking.  Keith and I stopped in the middle of the street and walked right up to their front door and said Mr. Etheridge, what is going on.  He stated, matter of factly, Kenneth and Greg are dead and John is hanging on by a thread, there was a terrible car accident.  (I believe it was John who survived the initial crash but can't recall for sure-he passed several hours later.) 

We went and saw the car and it looked like it had been kicked by a dinosaur or something - it was just completely mangled.  And so a legend started that I know for fact has been told at schools across the United States since this occurred.  I worked on the Drug Free Schools and Communities Act in US schools from 1989 to 1994, and as often as I told the story someone would tell me how they first heard of the story and how it was shared with everyone in their schools.  I have been wanting to put this page up for a few years.  For those that are familiar with the story and for those that went to Pearce, as with most deaths this one generated a lot of stories.  I know little else about this situation other than what Keith and I could have done that night, what we would have done that night, had not a simple decision dramatically altered the course of most of our lives that night, as evidenced by the amazing turn out at their joint funeral.  All 3 of these children were good wholesome people, into sports and all of them were really good in school.  They were well liked and had great futures ahead, but they decided to drink that night, possibly more than they ever had, and on the way home they came over the top of a hill on a country black top 2 lane road, and they never saw the road curve as they came over the top, because they ran straight into a culvert on the ditch on the side of the road.   They actually missed a sign on the side of the road by inches, the tire marks sliding right past the sign, literally inches separating the sign post from the tire mark.  It was dry, clear weather, they had just drank more alcohol than they ever had in their lives.  On graduation night they tried to celebrate their completion of High school, John and Greg - Kenneth had graduated the year before but wanted to go to our party.  But they took it too far and in one evening they destroyed their own lives.  Not on purpose, they just over did it.  Our school was saturated with drugs during my years there.  In some ways we were lucky there weren't more who left this earth at that time, and quite a few did in the years that followed.   I welcome any others comments about this night and these 3 men.

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Steve Shep

Music In the Air Tonight by Phil Collins- Song was in the United States Top 10 Music List at the time this terrible accident occurred.



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