Justin Drake didn’t wear his seatbelt when he was working on the farm. He said it was too much of a hassle with how often he had to get out of the car.
He wasn’t wearing it on May 27, 2013, when he lost control while driving, rolled and was partially ejected from the car.
In the year since, his mother, Becky Schneider of Greeley, has made it her mission to save other parents from the heartache she said never truly goes away.
“It’s still just such a deep sadness,” Schneider said. “People say time heals all wounds, but it doesn’t. Not when it’s a child, it doesn’t.”
Schneider created the Justin Drake Memorial Scholarship to honor her son’s memory and raise awareness about seatbelt safety. The award is for students studying agriculture or mechanical studies, fields her son was always interested in.
“We just felt like we wanted to get seatbelt safety awareness out there and to get somebody a scholarship to help them in the same field that he was interested in,” Schneider said.
Drake graduated from Northridge High School in 2010. He worked in the oil and gas industry for more than a year after graduation before the fourth-generation farmer got back to his agricultural roots.
“That was in his blood,” Schneider said.
Last year, the scholarship was established too late to receive any applicants. This year, Schneider said she hopes for a good turnout.
She and a friend who helped her establish the scholarship, Terri Keeney, worked to get the word out earlier this year via fliers and school visits.
After Drake’s death, the Schneider family sent out letters to friends and family asking for donations to help establish the scholarship fund. They raised more than $4,000.
“It was a wonderful feeling knowing that people cared enough,” Schneider said. “I think that’s part of it, is it showed what kind of person he was. Because a lot of people loved him and wanted to do that to partner with us.”
Since no one was awarded a scholarship last year, the family hopes to give out two $500 scholarships if they find applicants who stand out this year. To apply, students must write a one-page essay on the importance of seatbelt safety.
Schneider said students are encouraged to apply now. But she said the deadline for applications is April 1, 2015, subject to change.
She said she didn’t want to add too many criteria to the scholarship because her goal is to find the student that best embodies the characteristics of her son.
“We’re going to go through them and read them all and decide what kind of fits the kind of personality that was maybe like his and go from there,” Schneider said.
She also emphasized the importance of recognizing agricultural and mechanical students, calling them “the root of this area.” However, she pointed out that often in the ag and oil industries, seatbelt use is a second thought.
“My son, what he would tell me is, ‘It’s too much trouble to put my seatbelt on when I have to get out and check water,” Schneider said.
The recent rash of traffic injuries and fatalities in which the victim was not wearing a seatbelt serves as a constant, painful reminder of loss for Schneider.
“It just crushes me,” she said. “I was completely heartbroken for those people, thinking well, somebody else has to go through this, too. And all they had to do was put on a seatbelt and wear it.”
Keeney said she wanted to help Schneider launch the scholarship as a way to bring good out of a devastating situation.
“If she can see something good come from this, see some lives spared, see some parents spared from losing their child because they agree to wear a seat belt and are rewarded with a scholarship, it’s my hope that it makes waking up everyday knowing her son is gone but seeing something good come from it, a little bit easier,” Keeney said. “She’s had a hard year and I just wanted to come beside her and help her find meaning and purpose again.”
Schneider said that though it is still difficult whenever she thinks of losing her son and how it could have been preventable, establishing the scholarship has helped.
“It’s helped a lot to just know that we’re trying to bring some good from something that was so horrible and tragic,” Schneider said. “He would want people to learn from the mistake he made and to wear a seatbelt.” ❖