PARKERSBURG - The attractive blonde at mid-court of the Rod Oldham Activities Center had the full attention of the Parkersburg South High School student body as she spoke.
Stacey Fordyce, a 2004 Parkersburg South High School graduate, addressed the students at her alma mater Friday afternoon, counseling them on making good choices. With sandy blonde hair and a brightly colored skirt, she cut a striking figure speaking from her wheelchair.
"Make good choices," she said. "You think it can't happen to you.
Stacey Fordyce, a 2004 graduate of South, was paralyzed as a result of a car accident in which alcohol was a factor. Fordyce hopes the consequences of her choices will impact students as they prepare for the prom. (Photo by Jody Murphy)
"I was loving life and never imagined a car wreck would change my life. You don't think about these things happening," she said.
In 2006, days before Christmas, Fordyce hopped in a vehicle with an ex-boyfriend and some acquaintances for a quick trip up the street to a gas station. The vehicle in which Fordyce was riding, traveling about 35 mph, went into an embankment, flipping over several times. Fordyce, who was drinking and wasn't wearing a seat belt, was thrown out the back windshield.
Lying in the grass, looking up at the sky, she recalls the driver jumping over her body as he fled the scene. The other passengers, including Fordyce's ex-boyfriend, were scrambling to do the same.
"I knew something was wrong," she said. "I couldn't move. I said, 'I can't move.'"
Fordyce suffered a broken neck that left her a quadriplegic. Of the five people - all of whom were drinking - in the car that night, she was the only one hurt.
"It was my fault," Fordyce said.
The result of bad choices.
Assistant Principal Chuck Crookshanks recalled Fordyce as a well-liked student. Prior to her accident, Fordyce was enjoying life to the fullest. At Parkersburg South she was a Southern Belle, Homecoming Queen, Prom Queen and ran track.
"I was really involved," she said. "I wasn't someone you would expect this to happen to."
Fordyce, who was attending college, was slated to start at Washington State Community College's radiology program. Instead, she spent months in rehabilitation and physical therapy. And adjusted to life in a wheelchair as a quadriplegic.
"It was a very big adjustment. ... It was the end of dancing, schooling, a career. There were certain things I couldn't do. My whole future changed."
Not just for Fordyce, but her family, which had to adjust to the full-time care she required.
"It changed a lot of people's lives," she said.
Parkersburg South prom is tonight at the high school. Officials expect between 500-600 kids will attend. They hope everyone makes it home safely and without incident.
"Like students, we don't think anything like this will happen to kids," Crookshanks said. "You hope they make better choices."
Fordyce hopes the consequences of her choices will impact students as they prepare for the prom.
"I hope to make some connection with students," she said.