LeROY - Randy and Cathy Waddell know that life can change in the blink of an eye. Their daughter, Ashley, died almost two years ago in an auto accident that Randy Waddell said could happen eight times over in the time it takes the average person to blink.
LeRoy Junior High and High School students listened quietly for nearly two hours as the Waddells, of Tremont, shared their story about the accident and its aftermath. Many were moved to tears, especially while watching videos of the smiling 15-year-old and when they were taken outside to see the twisted wreckage of the car in which she had been a passenger.
Ashley Waddell was out with two friends on a September evening.
The three were trying to watch a television program at the Waddells' home, but couldn't get good reception, so they decided to go elsewhere to watch the show. They were "in a hurry," Cathy Waddell said, because the show was about to start.
Authorities say the car was traveling 96 mph when it left the road and struck two trees in Pekin.
"It took only one-37,000th of a second for the car to hit the second tree, stop and wrap around it," Randy Waddell told the students.
In that fraction of a second, he said, their daughter and her two friends died.
The pair, along with Ashley Waddell's friend, Max Weiler, have done 41 assemblies since the girl's death. Their goal is to show students the pain that family and friends endure. They hope teens will make better decisions.
"Some choices don't come with second chances," Cathy Waddell said.
One student who attended Thursday's assembly stood looking intently at the large photo of the smiling, curly-haired Ashley Waddell.
"This summer, I was driving too fast in the country, and my car went off the road into a field," she said.
That experience made her drive more carefully for "a few days, but this presentation made me realize that I drive too fast and that I need to change that."
One audience member who was especially moved by the Waddells' presentation was LeRoy business owner Gregg Hutchcraft, whose daughter, Niki, died in a car accident 12 years ago. She also was a passenger in a friend's car when it hit a utility pole at high speed.
Like the Waddells, Hutchcraft said he feels the need to do something to encourage safe driving, so he sponsors Niki's Challenge, a program to award laptop computers and other incentives to students who obey school rules, wear seat belts and drive safely.