DICKSON, Tenn. (WKRN) – They are stories that happen all too often, but are rarely told. We are talking about the families of victims left grieving after a drunk driver chooses to get behind the wheel.
Over the past year in Tennessee, there have been more than 7,000 crashes, all involving someone who was under the influence.
Talking about her son can easily bring a smile to Kathy Kilgore Beeler’s face.
“When parents say their child is the light of their life, you know, take it to heart. He was the light of my life,” she said.
Cole Kilgore would be Kathy’s only son, in fact, her only child.
Like many 19-year-olds, Cole was trying to figure out what he wanted to do with his life. He had just moved back home and was working in construction.
“Funny, charismatic, he was the class clown, prankster, jokester,” she described. “He was so funny and loving towards people.”
If you speak to Kathy about Cole, she will never claim he was the perfect child. However, he was perfect to her.
At the age of 12 or 13, Kathy explained how she had the usual talk with Cole about the dangers of drinking and driving. Cole struggled with underage drinking and drugs, but when Kathy found out, she made it a point to talk to her son about the dangers of it.
However, like so many mothers, no matter how old Cole got, he would always be Kathy’s baby.
“This little picture of him when he was a baby,” she said while holding a necklace with Cole’s picture inside. “He was not an easy baby. He was born by emergency c-section, and so I tell people he came into the world with a bang, and unfortunately left this earth in a bang, literally.”
June 4, 2011 is a day many of us couldn’t remember, but Kathy will never forget.
“Hot, hot June summer day,” she described. “He said, ‘I’m just going to run down the road,’ to his best friend’s house.”
What would happen next would change not only her life, but another.
Without going too much into detail, Kathy claims there was some bullying going on.
“Here’s Cole, 19 years old. Here’s this 38-year-old man who had been drinking and Cole got into the truck with him. He was a sober passenger and the driver’s blood was .114, almost double the legal limit of .08, and later we found out that he had cocaine in his system,” remembered Kathy.
The crash report would detail what happened next.
“He locked up his brakes and when he did, they actually slide and they hit a guardrail,” she said.
According to the report summary, the truck was travelling northbound on Highway 47 in Dickson.
“The vehicle has just started down a hill and was approaching a curve in the road, when the driver applied 100% braking. The vehicle went into a yaw and traveled off the right side of the road, striking a guardrail. The vehicle overturned and became engulfed in flames,” the report read.
“I’m told 66 Chevy pickup trucks back then, the gas tanks were built on the drivers side, right behind the drivers side and that’s where they hit, and they exploded into flames,” Kathy said trying to hold back tears. “Cole was on fire.”
Looking at the ‘Collision Diagram’ would note where Cole and the driver landed. However, a burn mark was used to illustrate where Cole’s body was.
“It’s indescribable. There is no movie, there’s no CSI show on TV that depicts the agony of seeing your child burned alive, and I live with that everyday,” Kathy said. “It’s imprinted on my heart, on my soul, in my mind. I remember what I saw, what I smelled. It was Cole, but it wasn’t Cole because he was burned over 95% of his body.”
Cole would only live for 10 hours.
‘CROSS ON HIGHWAY 47’
Poems are often found in books, but the one Kathy Kilgore Beeler held is meaningful, especially knowing everything she and her family went through.
“For those of you that are just passing through This road may not mean all that much to you
But I drive it day in and day out And there’s always some things that I wonder about
You just see some skid marks and a bent guard rail But I see family and friends going through hell
You think you’re just passing some cross on Highway 47 But that’s an angel that was sent to heaven
That cross is so much more than your eye can see It’s a child and a friend that’s been set free
It’s a sense of humor and the warmest smile That made anybody’s say worth the while
It’s not just a cross on Highway 47 That’s an angel looking down from heaven
It ain’t the only cross like that around here And it fills a lot of us with fear
Hoping we don’t have another small town heartbreak And have to worry about whose life is at stake
It may not mean all that much to you But just think about it next time you’re driving through
And remember that cross on Highway 47 Because you just saw a little piece of heaven…”Written by Chelsea Carpenter—-In Loving Memory of Cole Kilgore