Monday, guest speaker Aaron Cooksey spoke to Heidelberg University students about his experiences drinking and driving and a crash he caused that killed his best friend Andrea and resulted in time in prison.
With spring break and local proms around the corner, Heidelberg is hosting a series of events for Alcohol Awareness Week.
Events, which will teach students the effects of alcohol on mind and body, began Sunday and end Wednesday.
PHOTO BY NICOLE WALBY
Aaron Cooksey presents “Drop Your Pride, Too Many Have Died” at Heidelberg University Monday.
Monday's event was organized by Andrea Wensowitch, director of student engagement, and Kayela Tidrick, director of wellness and healthy living.
"We want to better educate our students about making responsible decision," Tidrick said. "Aaron has the ability to be relateable with them due to the incident he suffered was while he was in college."
Cooksey, of North Canton, loved playing football, basketball and baseball in high school; he earned eight varsity letters. Cooksey also loved teaching and wanted to pursue an elementary education career.
He said he was blessed with the two most loving parents and they taught him many life lessons.
One such lesson was making the right choices. During high school, Cooksey said he never touched alcohol or drugs because he didn't want to ruin his chances of playing sports.
"I never wanted to fail," Cooksey said.
He attended Mount Union College and one month before his college football debut, he tore a ligament in his knee.
"Looking back now, it was not the end of the world, but I was upset because
someone was telling me that I couldn't do what I loved to do" Cooksey said. He had to sit out for the season and that was when he took his first drink. The following season, his tore the ligament again and he became despondent.
"At that moment, I gave up and decided to live my life as fast and as close to the edge as I could," Cooksey said.
He said he would drink 10 to 12, 24-ounce draft beers a night and wouldn't return home until 2-2:30 a.m.. At first ,he wouldn't drink and drive, but as he continued to drink and party, he became more and more confident, he said.
"As long as I (thought) I was in control, I would be ok, but my choices from there decided to snowball," Cooksey said.
One choice he regrets is the one he made July, 29 2001, when he decided to drive while under the influence with his friend Andrea in the passenger seat. While driving to a nearby restaurant, Cooksey missed his turn and took a detour.
He said while he was driving down the road he kept accelerating while Andrea was talking to him.
"I do not know what she said to this day but I remember she said something funny, or something that I perceived as funny, because I took my eyes off the road for a few seconds and I began to lose control of my truck," Cooksey said.
The truck rolled three times and wrapped around a telephone pole.
He found out about Andrea's death while at the hospital.
"There are no words that you can string together describing that your actions killed your best friend," Cooksey said.
A few weeks later he was arrested and charged with aggravated vehicular homicide and five other charges. He spent four years in prison.
"People always ask how prison was. Prison is what it is, it is not like it is on TV," Cooksey said.
After prison, he earned a bachelor of arts degree in corporate communications from Walsh University. Cooksey couldn't fulfill his dream of becoming an elementary school teacher so he came up with the idea to share his message and story with the "Drop Your Pride, Too Many Have Died" program.
He said he's not the guy who is going to tell people what to do, just to think twice about making poor decisions and look at the next best choice.
Cooksey said he plans to present this program for about two more years and then he is done.
"It is hard to relive telling this story over and over again. I have to walk away," Cooksey said.
He left students with a few pieces of knowledge:
Always have a firm handshake.
Look people in the eye.
Men, hold the door for women.
Go with your gut.
Be nice to everyone.
Follow your passion in life.
Don't fear failure.
Let the choices you make today be the choices you can live tomorrow.
In closing, Cooksey held up a set of keys that symbolized pride and told the audience not to clap for him.
"I do not do this for applause or recognition," he said.
The last thing Cooksey said was, "Now think about a person that you love and can't live without, and then imagine that you killed them."