A high price to pay

ROYAL AIR FORCE LAKENHEATH, England -- -- Many of you weren't here a year and a half ago when we received the command post notification of an active duty member and his family involved in a car accident. Although the member and his family survived, unfortunately, two British civilians were killed.

I remember the day clearly, and the terrible repercussions a superb Air Force senior NCO had to face as the driver of the car in the accident.

Now serving time in a British prison for death by dangerous driving, Master Sgt. Michael Agnew asked me to share his story with you in the hopes of saving other Airmen the pain, sadness and guilt that could come with making driving mistakes on our local roads.

I ask you read his story and remember it each time you get behind the wheel of a vehicle. If it helps even just one of us slow down, turn over the keys to someone else when you've had a drink, or wait an hour before driving in adverse weather, it may help turn Sergeant Agnew's negative experience into one that prevents future tragedies from happening.

Driving mistakes cost

By Master Sgt. Michael Agnew

On Sept. 24, 2005 my wife, daughter and I arrived at RAF Lakenheath. I was looking forward to starting a new job and the experience of a lifetime for my family. I knew that both my daughter and wife were going to experience a huge cultural change.

With our assignment here we were all looking forward to the travel opportunities and the ability for us to visit our family members in the UK, some of whom we had never seen before.

On Nov. 5, 2005 our lives were changed for the worst, forever. After a very long month in temporary lodging, our car finally arrived from the U.S. Now we had the means to get around and visit our English relatives. As I ventured out that day with my wife and daughter to go see her aunt and cousins in Milton Keynes, I had already worked some early volunteer hours at the middle school playground with the wing's Top 3 organization. When I finished about 10:30 am, we headed out to Milton Keynes.

It was a wonderfully clear, sunny day and the drive to Milton Keynes was beautiful. We arrived at about 12:30 pm. The visit with our family went so well that we planned a visit for the next weekend so our daughter could play with her newly found cousins.

We planned to leave before dark, so at 5 p.m. we decided to return to RAF Lakenheath. On our drive back there were a lot of fireworks going off - being new to England, we didn't know it was Guy Fawkes Night.

After exiting a roundabout outside of Bedford, I came upon a car moving very slowly. I did everything I was supposed to do before attempting to overtake the slow car: I made sure the road ahead was clear; I assessed operational risk management. I then decided to go ahead and overtake. Within 2 to 3 seconds, out of what seemed to be nowhere, a vehicle appeared, and I was involved in a head-on collision. The end result was two people in the other car were killed, and my wife received life-threatening injuries to her abdomen from the seatbelt. My daughter, who was seat belted in the back seat, received minor injuries, and her little puppy was killed.

That night I was charged with death by dangerous driving. A year later I was convicted. I am now serving a two-year sentence at Her Majesty's Prison Wayland for my actions.

Since that awful night, the decision I made to overtake has had an enormous effect on everyone that we know and associate with, from family to co-workers, the 48th Fighter Wing and the Air Force.

First, my family: my wife has had to endure six major surgeries to her abdominal area, all of which have been life-threatening. She will have to have at least one more surgery that we know of already. My daughter had a cast on her leg for two weeks and has had psychological issues dealing with the violence of the accident, the loss of her puppy and having to see her mother go through so much in the hospital--not to mention the incarceration of her father that she still does not understand.

Second, my co-workers whom I love like my family have had to fill the void that I have left in my professional life and my family life: the 48th FW and the Air Force now have to endure the negative impact from the local community because of my actions, as well as not having a senior NCO to run the jet engine intermediate maintenance facility and be a technical expert, supervisor and above all, an example and mentor who really cares about the mission and its people.

I have spent 20 plus years in the Air Force living by our core values and the "Little Brown Book." I slept well at night because

I knew I always did the right thing; I gave it my all. The night of Nov. 5 has changed my life forever.

I ask you all to please think when driving in the U.K. Be a defensive driver and assess the whole situation before taking any action. Please learn from me. I had everything--all it took was 2 or 3 seconds and my life and career have been changed forever.

Do not let this happen to you.