June 5, 2007
Trey Kidwell, age 17, drowned early this morning, trapped in his beloved Toyota

This is not a news article. It is not a police report. It is not a work of fiction, although I wish that were true. This is a grandmother’s account of her 17-year-old grandson’s death.

I could keep it short and succinct: my oldest grandson Trey was trapped in his car; his friend escaped by breaking the door handle while forcing the passenger-side door open enough to squeeze out. Unknown to them, getting that door open sealed Trey’s fate by causing the car to flood more quickly. They did not know the best escape method, and they did not have a tool to break out a window.

But I’m not a succinct writer, so this message will not be edited down to the level of a single-column obituary. And that’s appropriate because Trey was not a succinct kid. Trey was my oldest grandson, his parents’ only child, the light of their lives. Trey loved his family; heloved his friends; he loved to laugh; he loved to compete; he even loved to debate historical and current events with his dad and grandmother.
How could this happen? Living in landlocked Indiana, not many Hoosiers think they’ll drown in their vehicles. Yet now that Trey has drowned in his car, I’ve learned how prevalent this type of incident is throughout the world. No one is exempt. Everyone should be prepared. Your window of opportunity to survive is short, and your vehicle’s window is your most effective escape route. And if you can’t open that window, you need a tool to break it. Trey didn’t know that; I didn’t know that; most of our friends and family members didn’t know that.

It was a lovely spring evening. Trey and Rob had visited a friend in a nearby town and somehow took a different road to get home. It was dark by then. Not to worry; just head in the right direction, look for familiar road names, and call mom if you get lost. But, they took a wrong turn onto an old county road (with the same number as the main road, but that’s another issue) that, without warning, became a boat ramp on a state park lake. Rob was texting his mom, trying to determine their location, when Trey rounded a curve, screamed, and could not stop the car from going into the water. Trey made sure Rob got out; he was that kind of kid, always putting his friends before himself.

That’s where Rob’s contact with Trey ends. Rob, terrified and worried about not making it to shore, did manage to save himself. Rob was not a swimmer; he was barely able to save himself, let along try to help Trey once the door had been forced shut by the weight of the water. There was no one else around this dark, remote, boat ramp. He had to run a mile or so for help. The accident happened about 11:30 p.m.; emergency personnel received the call at 12:34 a.m.; Trey’s body was recovered about 1:40 a.m. We can only imagine his panic and fear once he realized that he, a strong swimmer, a lifeguard, was trapped. He broke the driver-side door handle and a backseat door handle, but he either didn’t escape from the vehicle at all, or once the car settled (in 20 feet of water) he didn’t have enough air left to make it to the surface (his body was found outside the car). We’ll never know for sure. All we know is that our boy is dead. And Rob is forever scarred, needing long-term psychological treatment for both his near-death experience and survivor’s guilt.

Drowning is a terrible way to die; it is a form of asphyxiation. Have you ever inhaled a drop of water? And gasped, and gasped, and gasped—and finally caught a breath? With tons of water trying to invade the windpipe, there is no way to catch a breath. It doesn’t take long to lose consciousness; immediate escape is the only way to stay alive.

TREY IS DEAD! Those are the words his dad repeated over and over the day Trey’s friends pounded on our door at 4:30 in the morning. Those words altered our lives forever, and unless you have lost a child you will never understand, and I can’t fully describe, the immediate feelings of horror, loss, grief, disbelief, anger, and then the vulnerability that settles in and affects the rest of your life.
I won’t go on and on about the 17 years we had Trey with us. I’ll let his friends speak briefly about their loss. When Trey’s friends and teammates on the Centerville Bulldogs High School swim team heard of his death, they quickly gathered together to share their grief. His friend Jason commented that, “It will just be different without Trey around; there will be a lot less laughs.” His swim coach said, “If you cut Trey he’d bleed Bulldog blue. He used to beat me to practice every morning.”

Jessica Squires, a record-breaking diver remembers her good friend: “Trey was always the person who could light up a room with a smile. No matter who approached him, he was always friendly and would go out of his way to help anyone who needed it. I have never met anyone who worked as hard as he did for something he wanted so badly. Swimming was his life and he was such a part of our huge swimming family. Seeing Trey strive for his goals always reminded me that if I wanted something bad enough, I could achieve it just by working as hard as he always did. Trey's memory will never die and hopefully there will be others on the team that will use him as their motivation to achieve something he never got to do, just as I did. The team is not the same without him. He is loved and missed greatly.”

Trey was looking forward to his senior year in high school, to taking some advance classes at the local community college, to wearing his letter jacket for his senior picture, to swimming every day, to a summer job lifeguarding at a local pool. June 4 was the first day of his summer job; June 4 was the last day of his life.

The weekend before his death, Trey took the SAT tests; he said they were boring. Three weeks after his death, the results of those tests arrived in the mail; he would have been able to pick and choose among colleges. He’ll never have the college experience, so we established a scholarship fund in his memory, and a year later, when Trey should have donned a cap and gown, we awarded the first scholarships to two of his classmates/swimmers. We know that Trey appreciates that, and we know that his spirit lives on in the 700+ friends, family and even competitors who released balloons, lighted candles and shared memories at a twilight memorial service in Bulldog Park. The next day they followed the hearse on foot to the cemetery, and although the graveside service was brief, they couldn’t leave him there and stayed until his dad assured them it was okay to go. To this day, many of them return and leave mementos (goggles, toy bulldogs, letters, tears).

We’ve lost our Trey, and since his death numerous other families have lost loved ones who are just as precious, just as vital, just as innocent, just as unprepared. We can stop these needless deaths. All it takes is a simple tool to break a window and an easy-to-understand escape technique. Both are available; neither is costly. We must stop these needless deaths. I know Trey; he expects we will succeed.deaths. All it takes is a simple tool to break a window and an easy-to-understand escape technique. Both are available; neither is costly. We must stop these needless deaths. I know Trey; he expects we will succeed.