Real Life Stories

Shelby’s Story

The popcorn will never be the same. “Movie nights were always great,” said Shelby Mullnix, a 14-year-old freshman from Williamsburg. “My best friend Melissa had a secret recipe for spicing up popcorn. She would never tell anyone what it was. Now we’ll never know.”

Shelby’s friend Melissa took the secret of her popcorn spice with her when a sleepy driver crashed into the van she was riding in Feb. 16, 2010. It is doubtful she ever knew what hit her. Melissa’s mom, Karen Dye, was driving her daughter, Melissa, and son, Mike, to Iowa City on Interstate 80. “We had passed a state trooper with its lights on by the Oxford interchange. We slowed down and then stopped because there was a crash up ahead. The next thing I knew, I woke up and looked in the back to see Melissa slumped over in the seat.”

Best friends—Shelby and Mellissa.
Best friends—Shelby and Mellissa.

The stationary Dye vehicle had been hit from behind by a sleeping driver estimated to be traveling at 70 mph. “When the investigation showed the driver had been asleep, it was hard to understand,” said Dye. “How can someone driving sleepy cause my child to die? I just didn’t understand how dangerous that is.”

For Mullnix, Feb. 16, 2010, was just a normal day at school. “The state tournament was coming and we had a pep assembly. Melissa left to go to an eye doctor appointment in Iowa City,” she explained. “Later that day, my boyfriend at the time called to tell me about the crash. I thought it was just a really bad joke. I didn’t want to believe him. When reality started to sink in, I went to my room and just held a photo of me and Melissa. I didn’t know what to do.” The last year without Melissa has been hard on Mullnix. “Melissa guided me in a lot of ways,” said Mullnix. “Since her death, I’ve made a lot of bad choices without her there. I’ve tried drinking and have been on prescription medicine for depression, but nothing made the pain of losing her go away.”

Shelby and Melissa—more like sisters.
Shelby and Melissa—more like sisters.

 

Mullnix, Dye and others close to Melissa are in group counseling together. “That has helped some,” said Mullnix, “but I wanted to do more to make sure this doesn’t happen to other people.”

Mullnix is a member of Family Community Career Leaders of America (FCCLA), a nonprofit national organization focused on personal growth and leadership development to prepare young people for adult life. To honor her friend and continue her own healing, Mullnix has begun a service project to alert others of the dangers of distracted driving and how it feels to have your best friend killed at age 14.

A distracted driver is any driver not devoting complete attention to the task of driving. Sleepiness is just one of many distractions in our hectic world. “The goal of my project is to show people that you can get through a tragedy like this,” said Mullnix. Elements of the project include a video, posters, bookmarks and presentation to her school. She also conducted a survey of 50 members of the junior class to raise awareness of distracted driving.

The effects of living with the reality of what happened do not go away, but Mullnix says it is getting a little easier to get through each day. “I think it helps to talk about Melissa and what happened,” she said. “But I just got my permit and I’m terrified to drive, not because I’m inexperienced, but I worry about what other people are doing behind the wheel that takes their attention off driving.”

Shelby Mullnix
Shelby Mullnix