349 people died last year in crashes because they weren’t wearing their seat belts.

Many of those victims were teens.
Now one former Lowcountry student is sharing her ordeal to help others.

“I was thrown about 50 feet from the car and landed on the road.”

That’s what started the next chapter of Kellie Bright Burke’s life back in 2009.

A driver who fell asleep. Passengers without seat belts on. Kellie is one of three people thrown from the car. She broke vertebrae in her back, paralyzing her from the neck down.

“You hear about this stuff and you don’t consider or think it could happen to you,” said Kellie. “But it can and for some of them it will.”

A Battery Creek High School student then, Kellie now has joined forces with Burton Fire, Beaufort County EMS, and South Carolina State Troopers to send a message about safety, seat belts, and how life can change in an instant.  A message they hoped to drive home to students at Whale Branch High School, a school who just suffered their own tragedy last year. This team collaboration was prompted by a 2018 accident in which Whale Branch sophomore Kevin Morazan was killed after being ejected from the vehicle he was driving.

“Ever since my accident people have asked how I can be so positive about my situation,” stated Kelli Burke, “and it’s experiences like this, of using my story to help others that makes everything okay, because it gives me a chance to make a difference. Then to be able to speak in front of the age group that I was in at the time of my accident, that’s just even more motivation for me and I love it,”

“Everyone knows you get in a vehicle you have the possibility of getting into an accident. explains Kellie. “But to really know the extent of what happens if you do get in one. The car can flip. If you don’t have your seat belt on you could get thrown from the car, What injuries you can have, the number of injuries you can have. Oh, a lot of people think, oh I lived, No, you know I lived but then again I’m never going to walk again.” 

“I’m grateful we do have the job we do to help people but it’s not a fun job to find a child in the woods that could be deceased or badly injured,” explains AJ Drake, of the Beaufort County EMS. “is a community effort and its gotta start somewhere. I think if we start small in the schools and they, each person tells their friend to put their seat belt on hopefully it spreads the word.”

“I wish this never would have happened, I wish he hadn’t fallen asleep at the wheel, I wish the car hadn’t flipped. But it did, and I can’t dwell on it, I just keep moving forward, helping those that it could happen to them,” said Kellie.

In Georgia and South Carolina, more than 91% of drivers and front seat passengers wear seat belts. The goal is to make it 100%, so stories like Kevin and Kellie’s never have to be told to the next generation of students.