KDK REPORT: A split second, part 2


THERE’S an overwhelming sense of easiness and simplicity to life in Louisiana. In truth, as a black man this surprised me. Once girded by a dark underbelly of slavery, like so many states nestled in the deep south, a thousand stories couldn’t recount their hardship. This his- tory is intricately and permanently woven into the roads, trees, buildings and citizens. But today, life is more hopeful and happier. Today, in spite of it all, to all manner of men, no matter where you’re from, there’s something about Louisiana that magically feels a little bit like home.

Perhaps it’s the faint smell of crawfish and jambalaya that makes you crave a hot meal with family and friends. Like many a fairytale, streets are gracefully accessorized by large white magnolias as old as time. Scores of visitors can attest to the ease in which the taste of sweet tea, on a hot summer day, tempers even the most darkened hearts. Southern hospitality across the state remains unwavering in its vigor and while the days are slow and the weather is unpredictable, valleys of neighbors still sit on their porch and bid you good morning.

But tragedy is unbiased in resolve and execution and it still carries a weight as equally as heavy as it was decades ago. And in the worst of circumstances, there are tragedies so horrific that the best way to describe it is being dragged into hell. Living in hell is how Dawn would describe the past three years. Last week I shared part one of her breathtaking life story, played out in a small idyllic town in Louisiana. Today we conclude her family’s story and share the powerful lessons they were forced to learn.

On December 17, 2021, at 9:01pm, the unthinkable happened. Dawn, her three children (Lindy, Christopher and Kamryn) and her son’s girlfriend (Marissa) were hit by a drunk driver going the wrong way on a highway slamming into them at 90 miles an hour as they were driving home from her son’s basketball game.

At the moment we left off in last week’s column, Dawn’s eldest daughter, Katie, who had not gone with them on the trip a few hours away, was still trying to find where the rest of her family was. Dawn and Marissa were taken to Lafayette General Hospital but there was no indication where the others were taken or how badly they’d been hurt. Ray and his sons (Shea and Kyle) stayed at Lafayette General Hospital to be with Dawn as Katie left with her husband and mother-in-law to find her brother and sisters.

A state trooper had already confirmed that the drunk driver had been killed on impact during the accident along with the driver of their car which had to be Lindy since she was 20 years old at the time and was the only person other than their mother who’d be driving. With no information to go on, they went to Opelousas Hospital, since it was the hospital nearest to the crash site, to ask in person if her siblings were there. Katie walked up to the front desk and spoke to the male charge nurse and physician on duty but in trying to describe what her siblings looked like, the heaviness of the moment took its toll. Fighting back tears, Katie struggled to get the words out and her husband told her to just show them a picture.

Katie took out a picture of Lindy and Kamryn and the nurse told them to follow him. At that moment, Katie knew something was wrong. She saw it in his eyes, the crack of his voice and the expression on his face. They were escorted to a small room and in it, a body was placed in a white body bag, fully zipped. Katie couldn’t look so her mother-in-law asked for the bag to be unzipped. Fully expecting it to be Lindy, they were all horrified to discover that lying in the body bag was Kamryn, the youngest of all the siblings. Kamryn had arrived at the hospital via ambulance at 10:29pm and died at 10:33pm. All four of her limbs were broken and it’s suspected that she died from an injury to her neck.

Grief-stricken and confused, Katie screamed in anguish before asking if they had any idea where Lindy and Christopher could be. The nurse left to find out any information he could. Five minutes later he returned and said that he found Christopher. He was taken to Bunkie General Hospital and Katie immediately let out a sigh of relief, realizing in that instant that her baby brother was okay. But the nurse slowly shook his head and said I’m so sorry. He didn’t survive and they needed her to go to Bunkie General and identify his body. By this time, everyone was in complete shock and it took every strength in their body to ask about Lindy at which point the nurse responded that Lindy died instantly at 9:01pm and authorities were still trying to extricate her body from the car. In just five minutes, Katie found out that all three of her youngest siblings were dead.

In total, five people died that night, Katie’s three siblings, the drunk driver and after the accident, police tried to divert traffic and an elderly man was blinded by all the police, ambulance and rescue lights. He rear-ended the back of a state trooper’s car, instantly succumbing to his injuries and dying on scene. The troopers weren’t able to get Lindy’s body out of the car until 12:36am.

When Katie got to Bunkie General, Christopher hadn’t been pronounced dead yet so the intubation tube was still in his mouth. He’d just gotten his braces removed so she could see his teeth clenching on the tube and she immediately began to cry. He was pronounced dead at 11:06pm.

Dawn underwent surgery to repair her right leg and left carotid artery but her right Carotid laceration was too risky to repair and will have to be monitored for the rest of her life. She has no memory of the accident and was in a wheel chair for many months and required an extensive amount of rehab before she could walk again. She was in an out of consciousness and didn’t find out that her three children had died until two days following her surgery. She was released from the hospital on December 26th. When she entered the front door, the first thing she saw was all their Christmas gifts under the tree.

Their funeral was held on January 4, 2022, and Dawn says that a part of her died that day. For two hours, her son Kyle wheeled her back and forth from one coffin to the next so that she could say goodbye. There were three hearses, three coffins and 18 pall bearers. When asked what that day was like, Dawn said to just think of three people in your life who you love more than anything and imagine them being gone all at once, without warning and in a split second. There is a void in her soul and the vast emptiness persists. Left strangled by the guilt of surviving, Dawn’s entire body is numb. Even now, there is a palpable grief that now lives within her, never adopting a single moment of dormancy and at any given time manifest- ing itself into a torrential outpouring of pain.

Lindy had been born on October 24, 2001, and she shared her birthday with Dawn. She was creative and best described as a memory maker because she loved to photograph and video everything. She loved to dance and go to coffee shops with her mom and no matter how old she got, she’d sit on Dawn’s lap and hug her whenever she came home from college. Christopher was born on October 18, 2004, and was on his way to being valedictorian of his high school. He loved sports, was an amazing athlete and received first team all-state for basketball and the golden glove for baseball. He planned to play football in his senior year and he was studying to become a software engineer. Kamryn was born on January 26, 2006, and she loved to sing. She was incredibly kind and her heart bled to see anyone suffering. Her last text to her mom was asking if she could please pick her up a pack of gummy bears.

Dawn visits their graves every day since they died. Initially, she was so broken she couldn’t pray but she firmly believes that she was saved to share her story and make a difference in people’s lives by encouraging them to make better decisions so that this never happens to another family. Had that drunk driver decided not to get on the road that night, five people who died, including him, would probably be alive today.

Dawn says her days are incredibly difficult but her faith has been her lifeline that has gotten her through this tragedy. Together with her daughter Katie, Dawn is actively involved in the Simmons Family non-profit organization formed on December 16, 2022 and focused on educating the public on the dangers of drunk driving. Telling their story, saying their names and knowing that it may save a life brings them healing.

Their family is learning to rebuild their lives having endured such an unfathomable loss. They’ve learned to understand and appreciate how fragile and precious life is and they never forget to hug one another and say I love you. Dawn’s take home message is multi-faceted. She says to love your family and friends. Don’t hesitate to film life. No day is promised so be right with God, make good decisions, change people’s lives for the better, don’t be judgmental, be kind and building your legacy should start early. She insists that the decisions you make have consequences so pledge to not drink and drive, wear a seat belt and put the phone away.

Dawn longs for the past when Lindy, Christopher and Kamryn were still here but she says that God has given her a passion and a purpose that she will fight for until she takes her last breath. And as long as she has breath, she has hope that someone, somewhere will hear her message and another mother will be spared the pain that will forever live inside her.

This is The KDK Report.

• Moved by the interview he saw on Dr Phil, Dr Kenneth D. Kemp reached out to the surviving members of this family in Louisiana and though he had never met them, they opened up to him and shared this horrific story in the hope that it will send a warning to others, begging those who drink to excess not to drive. One man’s drunken state stole the lives of five people in an instant and changed a small town and its hopes forever.


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