As Adam Cochran introduced himself to hundreds of Effingham County High School students last Thursday, he included another description:
Georgia inmate 1197758.
Cochran came to ECHS to provide students a lesson on the effects of drinking and driving. In November 2004, Cochran was headed the wrong way toward the Savannah River Bridge. He hit another car head-on. All three occupants, three women from Ridgeland, S.C., who were returning from a night of playing bingo, were killed instantly.
“I’m not here because of a court order or because my parole officer said, ‘you’ve got to do this,’ ” Cochran said. “I do all this because I want to be a teaching tool because I don’t want anything to happen to you all.”
After pleading guilty to vehicular homicide, Cochran spent seven-and-a-half years in prison. He said he’s been looking to speak in Effingham County since he was released
The night of his wreck, Cochran drank five beers and two liquor shots. He got behind the wheel of his Mustang and headed home to Bulloch County.
“That night I crashed, it was no accident. Drinking and driving is no accident,” he said. “One drink is too many if you’re going to drive a vehicle. That night I hit that car, I didn’t have a plan. I had a wife who could come from Statesboro to pick me up. But I said, ‘no, I can make it home.’ ”
Cochran told the students that no matter their background and upbringing, they are susceptible to poor choices. His father is a retired lieutenant colonel and runs a high school JROTC program. His mother is a retired registered nurse.
“Good people can make poor choices,” he said. “You see what can happen if you don’t have a plan. I did seven-and-a-half years in prison for poor choices.”
The accident and its aftermath took an emotional toll. Cochran’s mother wouldn’t visit him on Mother’s Day. His daughter, now almost 20 years old, grew up without her father around. Three families in South Carolina lost their loved ones forever.
“Their mother’s not there. Their grandmother’s not there,” he said.
He was in touch with one of the victims’ family members, who wrote him his first letter in prison and taught him how to forgive himself.
At the time of the accident, Cochran had a good job, working for T-Mobile. He owned a home and had a rental home in Effingham County. Now, he cuts grass for a living.
“That night I didn’t mean to hurt anybody,” he said. “But through a poor choice and not having a plan, I did. All of it could have been avoided. My choices were selfish. It was all about me, me, me. I couldn’t go home for seven-and-a-half years to the house I bought.
“It took me less than five seconds to lose all that.”
While in prison, Cochran became a certified firefighter. But Bulloch County won’t hire him because he is a convicted felon, he said.
“I have a hard time getting a good job because of my insurance,” he said. “I got a 15-year sentence, and rightfully so. Prison (was) very deserving for my choices. If you do something like that, you deserve prison.”
Drinking wasn’t the only mistake Cochran was making as he drove that fateful night. In the seconds before hitting the other car head-on, he reached for a CD.
“Killed all three of them instantly,” he said. “Broke my leg, broke my wrist and broke my heart. Today when I smell antifreeze, the first thing I think of is that collision.”
Pay attention and have a plan
Along with imploring the students to have a plan when they go out and exhorting them not to drink and drive and avoid getting in a car with someone who has been drinking, Cochran also warned about the dangers of texting and driving.
“Drive that car and pay attention to what’s going on. That night I didn’t mean to hurt anybody. But through a poor choice and not having a plan, I did. All of it could have been avoided.”
Cochran, who spoke to ECHS students two days before their prom, said making good choices wasn’t confined to events such as prom and graduation.
“It’s not just about those weekends. You have to have a plan every time,” he said.
ECHS Principal Yancy Ford also urged the students to think about what they’re doing when they go out.
“You shouldn’t be drinking and driving,” he said. “But most importantly, if you do fall into that trap, and you choose to do that, it’s important for you to do two things — do not get behind the wheel of a car and do not let someone you’re with get behind the wheel of a car. Call someone. It’s very important for you to remember those two things.”
Ford told the seniors in the crowd that he wanted to see them at graduation — and not have to see their families to discuss a tragedy.
“What’s most important is I want to shake each and every one of your hands when you walk across that stage,” he said. “I don’t want to go to a funeral or have to go to the hospital because you made some poor decisions on prom weekend. That leaves an ever-lasting bad memory, not just in your family’s minds and hearts, but your friends, your classmates, your school, your community. It affects thousands and thousands of people.”
Cochran offered one last bit of advice for the students: “Don’t be another statistic,” he said.