Aug. 1, 2015, is a date David Heeb will remember for the rest of his life.
Heeb visited Lonedell R-XIV School District last week to tell his story about a car crash he was involved in more than two years ago. In addition to Lonedell students, St. Clair, Immaculate Conception, Union, Grandview, Hillsboro and Richwoods students attended the assembly.
Currently, Heeb is the superintendent for Prairie Home R-V School District located near Columbia. In 2015, he was living in the Fort Lauderdale area in Florida and was a principal for a charter school. While in Florida, Heeb said he was enjoying the warm weather and days at the beach.
On the early morning of Aug. 1, 2015, Heeb said he was driving in an east-bound lane heading to the gym. Driving erratically in the westbound lane was a man Heeb called Reggie.
Reggie was driving at speeds over 100 miles an hour and when a police officer pulled him over, he stopped in the middle of three lanes of traffic, according to Heeb. It was clear that Reggie was under some kind of influence.
“Reggie was so drunk his blood alcohol level was a .26,” Heeb said.
“The legal limit is a .08, which means he’s triple the legal limit of being drunk (while driving). At a .30, you pass out, unconscious.”
After the officer pulls Reggie over, Heeb said the officer waits to see what Reggie will do next because of the way he stopped in the middle of the road.
“Then all of a sudden, Reggie takes off like it is the Daytona 500,” Heeb said.
In Reggie’s car, there was found later cocaine in the back seat and he did not want to get caught, according to Heeb.
After Reggie took off, the officer stopped his pursuit because Reggie was driving over the legal speed officers can travel during a pursuit. The officer announces on his radio for police be on the lookout for a black Infiniti traveling at high speeds.
Heeb said minutes after the officer made the announcement, he heard a report of a crash. The last speed recorded Reggie driving at was 126 miles an hour. His car crossed the median and crashed into the driver’s side of Heeb’s Jeep Cherokee. Heeb was traveling around 50 miles an hour.
“He was going so fast that when he jumped the median, he didn’t even leave skid marks or anything,” Heeb said.
“He (was) just airborne like a missile. Do you know what happens when two vehicles collide with 150-, 160-miles-an-hour of force? It’s not pretty.”
Heeb is telling the story from details he gathered from the news and from what people told him had happened.
“Reggie’s car hit me so hard I don’t remember anything a week before the wreck or about a week after the wreck,” he said.
The impact of the crash caused Reggie’s car to go up in flames.
“Reggie’s car, when it hit me, it exploded and I don’t mean like a little fire,” Heeb said.
The impact also caused Heeb’s seat to move out of place making Heeb hit his head on the car door. He ended up on the floor of the passenger’s side.
“The Jeep was just crushed like a soda can,” he said.
First responders worked to extinguish the fire and assess the crash site. Reggie was pronounced dead at the scene.
“One of the officers noticed the dashboard (of Reggie’s car) moving up and down,” Heeb said.
“There was somebody under the dashboard trying to get out of his car. They had surveyed the 150, 160 mile an hour collision, they had survived burning alive inside this fire for 30 minutes.”
Crews discovered a 19-year-old girl under the dashboard of Reggie’s. Heeb said the girl was found with her head between her feet.
“And when they got the dashboard pulled up, they said her entire body from the back of her head to the back of her ankles, it looked like charcoal. Barely recognizable as human,” Heeb said.
The girl lived for four months at the hospital before dying, he said. Her legs had to be amputated and doctors performed a skin graft operation on her whole body.
“Sometimes you have to make the decision to tell your friend ‘Don’t do this’ or you have to make the decision ‘I’m not going with you,’ and some decisions are permanent,” he told students.
When Heeb regained consciousness after the crash, he said he woke up thinking he was at home.
“Honest to goodness I thought I was in bed until I felt glass falling on my face.
“And then I started to come to and I just knew I was hurt really bad,” he said.
“And then the more I come to, I knew that if I didn’t get help, I was probably going to die right there.”
Heeb recalled shouting for help as he laid injured in the Jeep. Finally, a rescue worker heard his voice.
“I’ll never forget when he said ‘There’s somebody in here and they’re alive.’ And to just hear the shock in his voice and know he was talking about me, I knew it was really bad,” Heeb said.
First responders cut the roof off Heeb’s vehicle and Heeb remembered the ray of sunlight that followed.
“And I just thought, is this heaven?” he said with a smile.
Heeb was later told that he was found in the one part of the Jeep that was not crushed.
Heeb was in the hospital for 10 days and had five surgeries before moving on to rehab. His injuries included a broken foot, a cracked hip and an injured arm. He had a steel plate placed in his arm.
He showed pictures of himself at the hospital, as well as a picture of the stitches on his foot and an X-ray of his arm with the steel plate.
“As bad as that looks, it could’ve been a lot worse,” he said.
While in rehab, he said his memory started to return. While in recovery, he would debate scenarios about leaving earlier or later that day of the crash. Or if Reggie would have hit trees that were there or had turned a little to the left or right.
“I was meant to be in that exact spot at that exact time. And like I said in the beginning, let’s wait and see because if I hadn’t been there, I wouldn’t be here talking to you right now,” he said.
In addition to photos, Heeb played the news clip of the crash that showed the vehicle fire and interviews from nearby witnesses.
After he made a fully recovery, Heeb used to drive to crash scene hoping to recall moments before he was hit.
“I used to think all the time, one of these times I’m going to drive by here and I’m going to have a flash back, but I never did. I never saw it hit me, I don’t remember it,” Heeb said.
Toward the end of his speech, Heeb told students that “Everyday is a blessing.” The moral of his story is to “be smart” when making decisions and to try to be good influencers.
“If I can say something that one of you can latch on to, that you can take it with you, that’s why I’m here,” he said.
The assembly ended with a Q&A with students.