Grieving father explains why he's changing the way he talks about his teen son's death

"We are doing this the wrong way."

david booth talking to the camera in his home

David Booth is on a mission.

Losing a child is every parent's worst nightmare, but losing a child to a preventable accident is a unique kind of grief. Such bereaved parents are often haunted by what ifs, and many choose to channel their grief into helping prevent whatever killed their child from happening to other people.

That's what David and Jennifer Booth decided to focus on when they lost their 18-year-old son Nicholas in a car accident in April of 2023. Nick and his friend Will had left lacrosse practice and were driving along a treacherous road near Richmond, Virginia, when they lost control of the car around a curve. The car hit a retaining wall, flipped and burst into flames, killing both teens. The Virginia Department of Transportation estimated that the car was traveling in excess of 80 mph when it struck the wall.

After another local teen was killed in a car crash two days before the new year, Booth reflected on how he talks about his son's death. He took to Facebook Live in January of 2024 to share his thoughts.

After describing the basic details of his son's accident, Booth shared that Nick and Will's bodies had to be identified by their dental remains, which took more than 10 days.

"Since that time, in addition to grieving our children, we parents have worked very hard to share the story of our boys and how their death affected us, in hopes that other young people would make better decisions when getting into cars," he said. "We have focused on love and community and how special those two young men were, and how much they're going to be missed."

Booth explained that he woke up the morning December 30, on what would have been Nick's 19th birthday, to the news that another teen had lost his life in a car accident because of poor decisions. Booth said it felt like he was reading about his own son again—a young man who was "an athlete" with "an unwavering smile and sense of optimism." At first, Booth felt sad, but then he became angry that another young life had been lost after all they'd done to tell Nick and Will's story.

"What it made me realize was that we're telling the story the wrong way," he said. "Instead of talking about how awesome those boys were when they were alive and how much they were loved and how much they meant to the community, in order to reach the young people we're trying to reach, we really need to focus on their death. The fact that it's not cool. It's not a badge of honor. It's not 'neat' that they have 3-on-3 tournaments named after them and plaques hung up on walls and trees planted for them in other neighborhoods. That all sucks. Because they're dead."

"So I will forever change the way I deliver my message," Booth continued. "Instead of showing pictures of my son and his friends having a good time and loving life, I will show pictures of the crash scene. Or instead of talking about what an amazing kid he was, I will talk about how scared he must've been when the car hit that wall. I will talk about the pain associated with the fact that we never even got to see him again in death because he was burned beyond recognition."

"We are doing this the wrong way," he reiterated. "We've got to do better. Young people do not believe that it can happen to them. They do not believe that when it happens, it's forever…I am forever changed by my son's death, but now I am equally changed by the realization that in order to really send the message, you have to use the shock factor and you have to use words that make people uncomfortable."

Watch Booth's message here:

It's heartbreaking that a parent should have to share and relive their son's death in tragic detail in order to prevent the same thing from happening to other young people, but if that's what it takes, that's what it takes. Teens and young adults often see themselves as invincible and, unfortunately, take life-threatening risks in the name of fun, but Booth is on a mission to get people to rethink taking risks behind the wheel.

"I do this for me, I do it for my family, and I do it for my son," he said.

Here's hoping that this father's courage to tell it like it is, even though it's painful, will help the message sink in so that other families can be spared being put in the same position.

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