Friday morning, December 19, 2014, began as any other day. It had rained during the night and carried over into waking hours. Our daughter, Brianna Cassidy, left the house for work around 7:30 a.m. after her mother fixed her breakfast and saw her off.
As her mother walked her to the car, the dialogue between them would be etched in our memories forever. Brianna’s mother told her to be careful, to which her reply was, “Don’t you trust me?” Her mother assured Brianna that it wasn’t her that she didn’t trust, but other drivers on the road. Brianna’s response was, “You have to let me go, mom,” to which her mother replied, “I’ll just hold on to you tighter.”
Those were the last words we would hear from our daughter.
She was not scheduled to work that day, but being the Christmas season, she was picking up extra hours from co-workers taking off for the holidays. This was a second job she picked up, since she was employed at the airport in Oroville, California, working on a mechanics apprenticeship.
A young, heavy-set, 21-year old man was driving faster than the speed limit. The roads were wet from the rain earlier that morning. My wife and I later found out, according to the driver’s wife, that the man had been sick.
They had a new baby and he was not getting enough sleep.
He went to work that morning to make a delivery since he worked at a transmission shop. He had texted his wife telling her he felt sick, and she replied telling him to come home. In need of the work, he proceeded to make the delivery anyway.
For a time, the man managed to stay on the highway, swerving in and out of the adjacent lane for four miles – drowsing off repeatedly – until he lost control of his pickup truck on a corner of the highway. As the vehicle crossed the center median and up the embankment, his truck went airborne. At that exact moment, our daughter Brianna was coming around the corner.
He collided head-on with her vehicle.
The Highway Patrol report indicated Brianna had no time to react, and was probably not even aware of what hit her. Had there been a one-second delay in the timing, he would have missed her and she’d be alive today. Had there been rails on that section of highway around that dangerous corner, it would have kept him on his side of the highway and she would still be alive.
When my wife got the call from the hospital, she called me in tears. We were devastated! Our world fell out from under our feet that day.
How could this happen? She was our only daughter, our only child.
Our daughter, Brianna, was a unique child, as all children are in their own right. However, though some children enter the world with greater advantages than others, to a large degree, it is up to each individual what they make of themselves in life.
Through most of Brianna’s developing years she was raised in a rural environment, experiencing the great outdoors. As an only child, she would spend time roaming with her dog around our 15-acre property in the foothills of Yosemite, California. Her love of country life outweighed city living.
Brianna’s upbringing, as a homeschooler taught by her mother, provided her a tremendous advantage in the academic years. Coupled with fresh air, plenty of sunshine and exercise in a natural environment, this paid off during those elementary and high school years.
Brianna’s love for flying began by reading about missionary pilots of the last century. Seeds were planted that would sprout and bear fruit within a few years. She would see her dreams becoming a reality, even before adulthood. At her memorial service, it had been stated that she lived a whole life in those brief 19 years.
In the last year of Brianna’s life, we saw a maturing – mentally and even spiritually. Mature people take responsibility for their actions. She learned that this in itself pays dividends: respect, trust, and dependability, to name a few.
As a pilot preparing for mission service, she was just two weeks away from her commercial pilot’s license. Brianna had been on two humanitarian mission trips to Panama and Ecuador, where she saw severe poverty first-hand. She also had been to Japan, where she escorted a mother and her son as their photographer. Brianna was an avid and active scuba diver at the master level, a photographer, videographer, and a violinist; these were among her biggest achievements. Although she had much drive, she was also down to earth, teachable, non-judgmental of others, eager to be helpful where she could, and a friend to all.
The weeks and months that followed our daughter’s death were incredibly difficult.
Words cannot express the anguish, grief, pain, frustration, even anger experienced by a parent in losing a child. These emotions were compounded by sleeplessness, an inability to concentrate, and overall helplessness. It has been said that losing a child is probably the most horrific loss a human being can endure. One thing is for certain: Parents come to grips with the dark realities of life in such times.
Only one’s faith can carry you through such an experience. But through it all, we have grown deeper in an understanding and appreciation of our heavenly Father, and we believe He fastened us in His loving arms. He truly holds the breath of every soul in His hands.
Giving a fair account of what has transpired in the 33 months since our loss would require us to write a book. For the purpose of this article, let it be said that we realized, through the influence of close friends and associates, that we needed to tell our story. A website was set up, and eventually a foundation was established: Brianna’s Wings of Passion. We hope that it will further Brianna’s legacy and be the means of bringing hope to hurting hearts that have also experienced loss and tragedy.
The man who took our daughter’s life faced no legal consequences.
He was not under the influence of alcohol, or drugs; he just fell asleep. Since there is not enough information or preventive laws on the books regarding drowsy driving, no prosecutorial action could be taken.
In response, my wife and I are pursuing prevention and legislative efforts to reduce traffic collisions, especially those that result in a loss of life, as national interest continues to grow. In particular, this year has opened doors for us to meet with county officials and senators at the state and federal levels to consider pursing legislation.
Along with the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, we look to assist with drowsy driving awareness and prevention. Here are a few ways in which we are currently involved:
- Helping to put up rails on the stretch of highway where our daughter was killed;
- Urging Cal-Trans (California Department of Transportation) to put up signage across the state to bring drowsy driving awareness to the public;
- Asking the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to add the effects of drowsy driving into their manuals, to include new drowsy driving verbiage in the DMV’s examination for renewal or licensure, and to include medical conditions in the application process that would alert highway patrol officers of potential drowsiness-inducing conditions at a traffic collision or when pulling over a driver; and
- Working with California Highway Patrol (CHP) to bring awareness to schools on the dangers of drowsy driving. The CHP will be doing a state-wide awareness campaign including a short interview on our family’s experience.
The drowsy driving issue certainly has become an epidemic in this nation.
We are pleased to see many groups – both private and public – collaborating on solutions. Our hope is that these efforts will curb the number of crashes and reduce the annual number of crash fatalities, both of which are on the rise.
For more information about Brianna Cassidy’s story, please visit the Brianna’s Wings of Passion Foundation website.