Voices Of The Crash
Nick Portis was a 17-year-old boy full of life and planning career as a Marine. He was the one that always tried to make everyone laugh and never turned down a good prank. He also spent a lot of time making sure his friends and family were safe and if anyone was injured or in need he was the first one there to help. On many occasions Nick had also been the one to speak up to family members and take keys from friends to avoid them drinking and driving.
On March 30,2013 Nick made many poor decisions. The first of these poor decisions was lying to his mother about where he was going and heading to a bonfire party deep in the woods of Estacada. It was this decision that led to the excessive drinking that would eventually impair his ability to make good decisions about driving. The last decision he would ever get the chance to make, was the decision to get into a truck with six drunk friends. They drove for less than a mile on a forest service road when the truck flipped and ejected 5 of them into the roadway. Nick landed in a ditch where a rock took out the side of his head. Nick never made it to the hospital. He died in the arms of the driver who was his friend.
This decision has caused many horrific days for many people. The lives of his family members and close friends will never be the same. His brothers and sisters struggle mostly with the unanswered question of why he didn't care enough about them or himself to make better choices. One of his friends that had to witness the crash still struggles with nightmares and anxiety. His grandmother struggles daily with the fact that she cannot see his face or hear his voice.
As his mother I struggle daily with the loss of my son. The nightmares are still as vivid as they were on day one, the emptiness and anxiety in my life will never go away. I have had to learn how to live a completely new life and realize that my life will never be "normal" again. I have had to learn how to say his name without crying. I can no longer read a story about a crash in the news without it taking me back to that first moment and bringing me to the realization that another family is just starting our hell.
I have also had to learn how to handle the anger and the thankful feelings I have toward the driver. Even though his actions did kill my son, he was the only one willing to stay with him at the crash site when the rest of his friends left him to die alone so that they would not be there when the police arrived. My son would have died in that ditch alone if he had not stayed to hold him that night.
There is no possible way to fit the devastation caused to our family on one page. There are no excuses for driving drunk or allowing our friends and family members to drive drunk. We as a community can stand against these senseless actions and make a difference. We can save lives!
After years of making bad choices, I finally met the man of my dreams. It seemed as if John was the only man on this earth who could love me through all my mistakes and do so unconditionally. I had never experienced anything like that in my life before. We shared our joy with family and friends and were married in my parent’s back yard on September 19th 1992.
Our lives permanently changed in Ogden Utah when returning to our hotel on the night of June 12th 1999 while attending a weekend business conference, when we were slammed into by a hit and run drunk driver. My head repeatedly hitting the passenger window, breaking my skull and sending 24 pieces into my brain, I was diagnosed with a severe traumatic brain injury and given a 3% chance to live.
When I woke from my four day coma, I had lost 10 years of age memory and 42 years of emotional memory. After years of rehab learning to walk, talk, eat, think and write, I still and always will have challenges because of a young man’s choice to drink, then get behind the wheel of a car.
Because of the loss of my emotional memory, our wedding day is a day of John & me getting dressed up and a group of people in my parent’s back yard. Our week honeymoon at the beach is nothing more than a week at the beach.
Struggling to do simple things, like vacuuming or buttoning a shirt can sometimes result in an uncontrollable rage, and can be a daily occurrence if I’ve failed to get the two naps I need in order to make it through an evening. Not being able to drive or work sometimes makes me feel like I’m not really contributing to the household. And while I know that’s not at all the way John feels, I can’t help but feel that way sometimes.
Maddi Higgins was my beautiful first born daughter. She was a 17 year old junior at West Linn High School with a passion for softball who proudly wore the No. 5 jersey for both her high school and travel ball teams. She received “All-State” recognition multiple times and was a shining athlete in the outfield and behind the plate. While she was well known in softball circles for her feisty, tenacious, 'no fear’ style of play. She may have been better known off the field for her tender, compassionate heart, and her fiery, spunky spirit that fueled her desire to bring joy and happiness to others. If you had the pleasure of meeting Maddi – you would know…she was truly unforgettable.
On June 8th 2014, our lives were shattered into a million pieces when Maddi was involved in a tragic car crash. The car she was a passenger in lost control and sheared in half after hitting a utility pole while traveling at an estimated speed of 95mph.
According to the accident report, the drivers 1997 BMW 328 was heading north on Petes Mountain Road "at a high rate of speed" through a pronounced dip in the road around 5:17 p.m. when his right front tire barely went off the pavement and hit a gravel shoulder. Deputies say the driver likely over-corrected slightly, sending the car into a counterclockwise spin across the road. Impact with the pole crushed the passenger side of the car into the driver's side. When responders arrived at the scene both the male driver and Maddi were unconscious.
Upon our arrival at the hospital we were told by the trauma physicians that Maddi had experienced a “traumatic brain injury", was very sick, and that her prognosis was not good. Twenty-four agonizing, heart-wrenching hours later, doctors declared Maddi brain dead. We kept her alive in order to harvest her organs so others could live. She died on Monday June 9th —3 days before completing her junior year at West Linn High School.
Maddi’s life had an enormous impact on many other lives. When she was 'stolen home' on June 9th, 2014, her wish to be an organ donor created a flawlessly executed 'final play' and ultimately saved “5” other lives.
What I want others to know is that our story and all of the devastation and the many lives that have been interrupted and shattered by this tragedy didn’t have to happen because this crash and so many crashes are 100% preventable.
Our family narrative was forever changed after Maddi’s death and we’re all really just shells of what we ‘once were’. Life somehow still goes on even if we’re not “all there” inside of these ‘false front’ exterior shells. Don’t ask me how or why but sometimes I feel like my pain and loss should stop, but I’ve learned it just doesn’t so at some point on our grief journey we need to try to learn how to “actively live” again. Baby steps.
I want to educate both youth and adults on the subject of safe teen driving by discussing the devastating consequences that being reckless or distracted behind the wheel often bring. We are committed to drawing awareness to the epidemic issue of distracted and reckless teen driving, the very thing that took my daughter’s life.
I’m trying to draw from my own pain. I hope that educating others and sharing from a very personal perspective of the one’s left behind to pick up the pieces from the wreckage and aftermath of a fatal car crash will help teens better understand that the decisions they make when getting in a car (both as a driver and passenger) can be the difference between life and death.
I am refusing to let Maddi's death be her LAST chapter. I have decided to take Maddi's death and its tragic underlying lessons, and continue writing it her honor. ‘Maddi Higgins, Volume Two’ will be filled with chapters that I never could have envisioned reading (let alone helping write).