British Columbia·The Speed Factor

Survivor who lost 3 friends in crash shares harrowing story to save lives

John Westhaver is the sole survivor of a 1994 car accident that killed three of his high school friends. He now speaks to students about the dangers of speeding and the ripple effect of deadly crashes.

'If I can save one person... my effort is worth it,' says John Westhaver, who warns students about speeding

John Westhaver is the sole survivor of a car accident that killed three of his friends. Speed was a factor in that crash and he now tours high schools to warn students about the risks of driving too fast. (Submitted by John Westhaver)

Four high school friends full of life were flying down the road one Friday night in 1994 when the driver lost control of the car.

Only one of them survived to tell the story.

John Westhaver was 18 years old when the car he was riding in flipped, hit a telephone pole and burst into flames just outside St. Stephen, N.B. His three friends died and 75 per cent of Westhaver's body was burned.

Twenty-four years later, Westhaver is sharing his story with students in British Columbia to warn them about the dangers of speeding.

"It's extremely hard to relive the worst day of your life over and over again," said Westhaver. "But if I can save one person out of every audience, my effort is worth it."

According to ICBC, speeding kills more people in B.C. than driving under the influence.

As an ICBC road safety speaker, Westhaver reminds high school students that having a sober person behind the wheel should not be the only litmus test for safe driving.

'His teenage life was over'

"We thought we were safe because we had a designated driver," said Westhaver. 

The driver of the car was going 50 km/h over the speed limit when they crashed.

When the driver took a corner too fast, the car skidded out of control, flipped over and hit a telephone pole. The driver was thrown from the car and died on the street.

"He was ejected with such force that when he hit the pavement he was killed instantly," said Westhaver. "His teenage life was over."

Westhaver's two other friends were trapped and died in the backseat. Westhaver's clothes caught on fire when the car ignited.

'They saw me on fire'

The small community of around 5,000 people was hit hard by the accident, especially witnesses and first responders, said Westhaver.

"They saw the carnage, they saw the aftermath, they saw me on fire... nothing they will ever do will unsee what they saw that night."

At a Richmond high school on Tuesday, Westhaver illustrated the ripple effect of a fatal crash. He asked four students to stand up and everyone in the room who knew them to raise a hand.

Almost every hand in the room went up.

"Everyone that cares and loves you are impacted when you are involved in a crash like this," said Westhaver.

"We were just living life, almost finished high school, on a Friday night, just doing our thing...

"My life was changed forever when the crash happened."

Westhaver now lives with his wife and daughter in Victoria. In 2017, he received a Coast Mental Health Courage to Come Back Award.

The Speed Factor is a CBC Radio One series taking a closer look at the impact of speed on car collisions in B.C. Tune in to On the Coast from March 12-16 at 5:05  p.m. PT. 

With files from On The Coast.


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