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Drug and Alcohol Awareness with Guest Speaker Justin Tate

To spread awareness about the cause and effects of drug and alcohol abuse, the Hebrew Academy invited Justin Tate to speak to the students of eighth through 12th grade this Tuesday about the alcohol induced car crash that changed his life forever.

Tate relayed his story standing on the stage at Hebrew Academy. He eventually sat down and began unraveling bandages from his leg, revealing two metal prosthetics. He removed one of the prosthetics, showing the result of the healed burns on the stump of his former leg, and hitting his message home.

During the spring break of his freshman year of college, Tate and three of his best friends were invited to a party and decided to go to a local hangout afterwards. Driving behind the wheel under the influence of alcohol, Tate curved off the road, flipping the car over, and ultimately hit a tree. Due to the intensity of the accident, the car burst into flames.

Tate said how he woke up the next morning in the ER having zero recollection of the event. According to other people’s stories, Tate had attempted to climb out of the driver’s window but had left his legs in the car for too long, resulting in severe third degree burns. Having no other alternative, his shins were amputated and later replaced with prosthetics.

Tate explained the horror of his experiencewaking up in the hospital. In addition to finding out about the burns, his best friend who had been in the back seat was dead. He said that they had been best friends since middle school, and to find out that his carelessness killed him was unfathomable.

Tate’s skin had burned off so badly that excess skin from his scalp, arms, and chest had to be removed and placed over his legs three times. Tate said he lost over 70 pounds from these skin removals and  went through 30 plus surgeries. His license was suspended, and he was charged for DUI manslaughter when he was only 19. He was expected to be in prison for eight months; however, due to his austere medical injuries, the county jail couldn’t take him and canceled his sentence.

Currently, Tate has completed his physical therapy sessions and has gotten back his license. He said after he learned to use his prosthetic legs, he would try to bike everywhere, though it was extremely challenging. He went back to college, changed his major to physical therapy, got his degree, and later on attended graduate school at Florida Southeastern University. Although it was very difficult getting his license as a physical therapist, Tate jokingly stated how he might have had an advantage in getting the license because he is an amputee and went through that episode.

Tate recalled the story of other friends who lived through car accidents after drinking. His close friend, Eric, caused the death of two girls while drunk driving and served eight years in jail, while another friend crashed a car and lived as a quadriplegic until the age of 42.

His lasting message to students is that they should be cautious with their actions and how they handle peer pressure. He reminded them to always think of the future and how a single gesture of picking up a beer or taking shots with friends may affect them and those who they are close with.

Naomi Bitton

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