MOORE, Okla. (KFOR) – A month after a suspected drunk driver slammed into a group of Moore students, one of the teens opened up about the traumatic experience and the tough recovery he’s facing.
Joseph White is one of the survivors of the crash that killed three Moore High School students.
Yuridia Martinez and Kolby Crum succumbed to their injuries in the hospital. White’s high school sweetheart, Rachel Freeman, died at the scene.
“That’s been the hardest part of it,” White said.
As soon as he met her nearly three years ago, he knew he wanted to be close to her.
“She was an amazing person,” White said. “ She was really funny and she was just extremely dedicated.”
She pushed him to be a better runner in more ways than one.
“She was faster than me when I first met her but I knew I wanted to get up there with her. I had to beat her before I, you know, dated her,” White said, the memory drawing a smile.
The two had plans to go to separate colleges, but they were close enough that he was confident they’d be able to stay together and continue to build their lives.
However, they were robbed of that future in a matter of seconds.
It was the day after the Super Bowl, so White said he was a little tired. Otherwise, it was a day like any other.
He met up with Freeman at their lockers, and they walked with each other to class. He said he doesn’t remember very many details about class or practice that day.
“But I do remember every moment I spent with her during that day,” he said.
The two of them were leading their teammates through a tough workout after school. White’s final memory of Rachel occurred just moments before they started to run.
“She gave me this smile. I said, ‘I love you, we got it,’ and she said the same thing back. We held hands for a second, and gave each other a big smile,” White said. “It’s a pretty good last memory.”
After that, he said the last thing he remembers is synchronizing his watch with the 10 other runners on the sidewalk before they took off.
The next thing he remembered was lying on the ground, wondering where his shoes were. White said he couldn’t move, and couldn’t open his eyes, possibly because he hit the back of his head.
“I was wondering why so many people were trying to keep me awake and not just leaving me alone,” White said. “I felt so tired and everything, I just wanted to go back to sleep.”
When he could open his eyes, he was in a hospital room with a broken knee, broken wrist, both ankles sprained, and road rash all over his body.
He also suffered lacerations on his face and leg, bruising that reached down to his lungs and deep into his legs, and damaged ligaments that may need surgery before this is all over.
But after he came to and understood they had been hit by a car, White was most concerned with the state of those who were with him.
“I didn’t know anyone had actually passed away,” he said. “I thought everyone was just in a horrible condition like I was.”
White’s parents were joined by the chaplain and a member of their church when they broke the news that Freeman had died.
“I just felt destroyed. She’s pretty much my other half. She evened me out and everything,” White said. “That’s probably the hardest part of it all.”
The little comfort he had came from the knowledge that she didn’t feel pain, and is now in a better place.
White said Freeman’s parents have made sure to visit with him, and gave them photo albums with the countless photographs she took of them in their time together. He said they help him hold onto the good memories.
“We were just having a great time a couple of nights before, just having so much fun, going out to HeyDay and just playing games, going bowling and stuff,” White said. “The night before, she spent a good time with her mom and she got to see her family and friends, and everything. It just came together pretty good.”
In the days following the crash, White learned Martinez passed away. He visited his friend, Crum, while he was still in a coma.
“It was hard seeing him like that,” White said. “That’s not how he is. He’s always moving, on the run. It was really hard seeing him still like that, only being alive off of a machine. It hit really hard.”
Almost two weeks after the crash, Crum died at the hospital. White said that’s when more shock settled in.
“Kolby was just one of the hardest workers out there. He’s a great person, such a kind person and everything,” White said. “He was never mean or anything, he always went out of his way to help other people.”
Now White is doing his best to process everything that has happened. Even though he said he doesn’t necessarily want to have a memory of the crash, he said his friends’ accounts have helped in some ways. They helped him recall the only aspect of the oncoming truck he remembers.
“The loud roar of an engine. It was just loud,” White said. “It almost sounded like a train revving at you. It’s hard to describe. It didn’t seem real at first.”
It’s a sound he was used to at the end of the day at a high school, but this time it was different.
“All of a sudden to hear that sound coming from behind you and you know it’s going to hit you, it’s just that feeling of helplessness.”
After that, he only knows what his friends told him.
“We just barely started, and I guess I was the first to turn around, and I turned around and I just yelled, “Oh ****,'” White said. “It came so fast and we couldn’t get out of the way, many of us.”
He’s glad he doesn’t remember his friends, or Freeman that way. But there is a question that still nags him, one that may never be answered.
“How did, physically, what did my body do to survive? What happened to me to make it through being hit at over 80 mph?”
For now, White is forced to use a walker to get around, barely able to put any weight on his left leg. He’s in and out of appointments with various doctors and therapists at least twice a week.
Recovery is slow and will take a while longer. For the 17-year-old used to running to work through emotions, being immobile is difficult to deal with, especially now.
“It’s a way for me to think, to process, and to get out all the energy I can,” White said. “It’s just a huge transition to go from one day being able to run these fast times, being able to go on these 12, 13-hour runs … to all of a sudden having to re-learn to walk. It’s hard.”
But his team and his friends are helping him and each other get through this. It’s a support system he relies on.
“Making sure I’m OK and checking up on me continuously,” he said. “Making sure I have a good mindset through it all.”
White has a running scholarship at Rogers State University in Claremore for next year. He doesn’t know what his running prospects will be this coming year, but he’s hoping to run for them in the future.
In the meantime, he said coping with what happened, losing the girl he thought was his future, has completely changed his current outlook.
“I’m not really focused on long-term anymore,” White said. “I’m just, the only way for me to live right now is day by day, and appreciating every moment I have around, making the best I can.”
The outpouring of support from the community and far beyond has floored White, but he said that every prayer, every word of encouragement, every little bit has helped.
“As small as some things seem,” he said. “They do help a lot.”