A mother relives grief for young drivers' sake

Warning: Theresa Costley hopes her presentations to groups of reckless drivers will prevent others from suffering the heartache of losing a family member.

August 10, 2005|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

Theresa Geier Costley has told the horrifying story hundreds of times. It never gets any easier.

As her eyes brim with tears, Costley describes for captivated audiences the night of May 18, 1996. She tells teens, parents and others at monthly reckless-driver education sessions about how she got a call that her 15-year-old son was in a car accident while riding home from a landscaping job with a friend.

"On the way over, I got a pain in my chest, it was like something I've never experienced before," says Costley, recalling the trip to the crash scene on Harpers Farm Road in Columbia, and the yellow tarp covering the burgundy Honda Accord. "I knew Terence was gone."

For nearly nine years, Costley has been regularly reliving that nightmare as a speaker in hopes that no one else will have to endure the heartache that she suffered. It is difficult for her to summon up that memory, that pain. But it is therapeutic knowing that she might be able to help someone.

"If one mother doesn't go through it ... then something good comes out of this horrible thing that happened to us," says Costley, 52.

She learned that Terence's friend, the driver, was going 73 mph in a 35-mph zone when the car struck a tree on the passenger side, where Terence was sitting. Soon after the crash, Costley started sharing her story.

She was invited to participate in the safe-driver seminar, "You Are Responsible," created by a father whose 16-year-old son was killed in an alcohol-related crash on Route 32.

In October 1996, five months after her son was killed, Costley found herself getting up in front of crowds and speaking - something she never had to do before.

She was numb.

"The first year ... it's still so new, it's hard to do," she says. "It's basically reliving what happened every time I do it."

But she pushed on. About two years ago, she expanded her efforts and joined Howard County's PADDD program (Positive Alternatives to Dangerous and Destructive Decisions), where a court-ordered crowd learns about the dangers of speeding and other reckless driving.

Maryland Shock Trauma Center nurse Debbie Yohn co-founded the program, which has been taught in Howard County since April 2003.

She says Costley's story is a powerful one for reckless drivers to hear.

"You can forget the statistics, you can forget the facts, but you can't forget the face that goes along with a story and the heartache," she says. "These are real people that have a real message."

Costley, of Jessup, wants young drivers to realize how far the trauma and pain spread throughout a family and the community when an accident claims a child's life.

Terence's siblings, brother T.J. Costley, now 30, and sister Tami Costley, 26, deeply miss their brother. The siblings mourn not being able to celebrate milestones, such as Terence's 21st birthday. He would have turned 24 in April.

Holidays are especially hard. The large family usually rents a hall to celebrate Thanksgiving, and Costly is strongly reminded at such times of Terence's absence.

"Everybody is there with their family, and they have all their children there," she says. "And I don't."

After Terence's death, Costley struggled to cope with daily life. She would pass a car accident on the way to work and arrive crying. She would see one of Terence's friends wearing a shirt that he had borrowed from her son and be stunned.

Eventually, she took a leave of absence from her job at the now-closed Giant food store in Oakland Mills. Now, she is a receptionist for the county's Community Action Council, where her boss, Bita Dayhoff, called her "one of the most giving persons I have ever met in my life."

Costley's sister, Diane Hook, admires her sister for dedicating her time to speaking about the dangers of reckless driving. But she believes her sister could also benefit from talking with a medical professional or people who have lost children, people who could empathize with her pain.

Instead, Costley says, she finds solace in repeating her story, ensuring that people understand the dangers of driving recklessly.

"It makes me realize every time I do speak about it how much I miss my son," she said.

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