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Mark Bello
Mark Bello
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Turning Tragedies Into Hope

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Prom and graduation season are upon us. While it is a time to celebrate, these joyous events often leads to risky behavior among teenagers who don’t think anything bad can happen to them. Dr. Brian Hoeflinger and his wife Cindy are here to say — It can! Teens feel invincible. The Hoeflinger’s are here to say — They are not!

In 2013, 18-year-old Brian Hoeflinger was on his way home from a friend’s birthday party shortly after midnight when his vehicle went off the road, struck a tree, and caught fire. A police officer driving by noticed a fire in the woods; he stopped and discovered Brian’s car. Brian was trapped inside with his seatbelt on. He was unconscious with a faint heartbeat; he was barely breathing. The officer worked to contain the fire until help arrived. Brian was freed from the care moments before it exploded and became engulfed in flames.

Brian did not attend his senior prom and he did not graduate with his class three months after the crash. He did not go on to college to become an orthodontist. He will not get married, have kids, and grow old. Why? Brian made a bad decision that night — one that cost him his life.

As teens, and their families, prepare for the fun and excitement of prom, graduation and the parties to celebrate those special events, Lawsuit Financial would like to share a letter that Brian’s parents wrote to the graduating class of 2013, which has been reposted on Facebook for all 2016 graduating seniors. It is a moving story with a big lesson that I believe is important enough to share with my readers. I encourage you to read it in its entirety.

Our son Brian Hoeflinger died in a tragic car accident on Feb. 2, 2013 at the young age of 18. He was a kid just like you who had hopes and aspirations of going to college and having a full happy life.

On the night he died, he was at a party with friends drinking vodka and ended up driving intoxicated. I remember the phone call we received late that night when we learned Brian had been in a car accident. The sickening feeling in the pit of your stomach and the frantic racing of your heart when you don’t know if your child has been hurt or if he is even still alive. Your entire body trembles uncontrollably with fear as you anticipate the worst outcome. When my wife and I arrived at the hospital, we were told Brian was dead. Our bodies were numb. We felt empty and completely alone inside. The image of our son lying there on a cold gurney dead in trauma room 24 at Toledo Hospital will never leave our minds for as long as we live. His pale lifeless body lying there almost as though he were asleep, wishing he were only asleep but all too well knowing he was dead and never coming back home with us. It is the worst singular feeling we have ever experienced in our lives.

The second worst feeling was telling our other three children at home about an hour later that their older brother Brian was dead and gone forever. The pain we inflicted upon them at that moment in the middle of the night was unthinkable. At their request, we took them to the hospital to see Brian. It was heartbreaking to watch Kevin, Julie and Christie say goodbye to their big brother forever that night. The lasting image of him lying there dead in the emergency department permanently seared into their minds. That life we had with Brian is over now and an unwelcome new life without Brian has taken its place.

We tell you this story because Brian could be any one of you, if you choose to drink. And we say choose, because it is your choice and nobody else’s. Once you take your first drink of alcohol, you are not making the decisions, the alcohol is. You are putting yourself and others at risk for injury or, even worse, dying like Brian.

Now you may say that Brian was stupid and not a responsible person. You would never be that dumb or make that mistake and it could never happen to you. Well, Brian used to say that too and look how it turned out for him. Let us tell you, Brian was not a stupid person.

He had a 4.5 GPA, 32 ACT score, was a 4 handicap golfer, and was accepted to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which was his first choice in colleges. Brian always made good decisions until alcohol was involved. You see, you can’t make good decisions when you drink alcohol. No matter how much you think you can, you can’t. Brian proved that.

He is now frozen in time at the age 18 with no chance to move forward or to make a difference in the lives of others. As for you, you are very much alive and able to make your destiny what you want. This is a very defining time in your life because at this moment you are able to choose the path in life you wish to follow. At this moment, you have the chance to change the way others think by taking a stand against drinking, especially drinking and driving. You are able to define who you are and to make a difference now. It is your time to be a leader that others will want to follow.

It is a privilege to be alive and to be able to make a difference in the lives of others. Brian lost that chance with a bad decision but we’re sure he wouldn’t make that same mistake twice. But for Brian, there is no second chance. No chance to redo things. As for you, you still have the chance to make a difference in your life and in the lives of others.

If we could ask you to remember just one thing from this letter, it would be to have fun without drinking. Be a leader and make it cool not to drink. You can do it. We know you can.

And lastly, but most importantly, don’t drink and drive or ride with someone who has been drinking. If you could feel for only a brief moment the extreme anguish and pain that we as a family feel over Brian’s death every moment of every day, then you would understand what drinking can cost you and your family. Please think about it.

Think about what Brian lost, all his hopes, dreams and ultimately his life, as a result of alcohol. Please don’t make the same mistake. Stay safe and make it to graduation. Don’t put your family through what we are going through.

The Hoeflinger family

The letter is part of “The Night He Died: The Harsh Reality of Teenage Drinking,” a book written by the Hoeflinger’s shortly after Brian’s death. If you would like to learn more about Brian or obtain a copy of the book, visit www.BrianMatters.com or www.Amazon.com.

It is important to remember that it is not only alcohol that is taking the lives of our teens. Distracted driving accounted for more than 3,100 deaths and more than 430,000 injuries in 2014, according to the NHTSA. Teens have among the highest rate of accidents involving distracted driving and their risks increases with the number of passengers in the car. I recently posted an article about a teen who, unlike Brian, had a second chance; she failed to embrace it. Lawsuit Financial encourages its readers to share these stories with every teen you know. If it can save at least one life, and spare a family from the agony of losing a son or daughter, sister or brother, grandson or granddaughter, niece or nephew — isn’t it worth it?

Mark Bello is the CEO and General Counsel of Lawsuit Financial Corporation, a pro-justice lawsuit funding company.