It’s been nearly 11 years since Ashley Wooden of Omaha was killed in a car crash by a distracted driver.
She was a 12-year-old sixth-grader at Buffett Middle School with hopes of following in her mother’s footsteps and becoming a teacher.
“She was everything. She loved the Lord. That was probably one of the biggest things. Her bible at 12 years old, was more worn out than mine,” Ashley’s dad told 3 News Now.
Beyond her religion, her parents said “she was a great softball player. She loved the game. She loved her friends. She was great at school and was full of life.”
Her parents, Tim and Patty Wooden, have not spoken publicly to the media until now.
On a rainy day at their warm and cozy home, with pictures of their family throughout the family room, including one wall dedicated to pictures of their deceased daughter, Ashley’s parents recalled the day “their life was turned upside down” with 3 News Now Reporter Maya Saenz.
“It was a Saturday. Typical. Dry. No crazy weather,” Tim said.
That Saturday was Nov. 3, 2007.
"In that instant, in that moment, life just changes. It just does."
Tim had taken Ashley and her two younger brothers shopping at Parables that morning. Ashley had saved her babysitting money and wanted to buy herself a cross watch.
“She was so proud of it. She kept showing it to me. It gives me peace to know she was so happy in her last hours,” Tim said.
Patty was at an event while Tim drove the kids in the family van from the store to pick up Ashley’s younger sister from a Girl Scouts event. Her two younger brothers were in their car seats in the back row. Ashley was in the middle row.
The family was approaching the intersection near 132nd and Blondo streets when Tim noticed a pickup truck speeding towards them.
“We were coming into that intersection, and I could see it out of the corner of my eye, and happened to catch it, but it was too late. The truck didn’t even seem to slow down or nothing,” Tim said. “I just remember rolling. I think we rolled about two times before we ended up upside down.”
Tim said the pickup, driven by 47-year-old Jeffrey Clinton of Valley, slammed into their van and landed about two feet inside the vehicle.
"...this is something I don’t wish on any family. It could all be avoided by driving carefully.”
“I was trying to get Ashley’s attention to check on her brothers, but she wasn’t responding at all... I could hear people outside, and they’re breaking out the rest of the glass,” added a tearful Tim. “I was trying to get down, and I was asking people to help me get down. Luckily by the time I got down, she was already out and was taken away in an ambulance.”
Tim and the two boys suffered minor injuries — the most severe was a broken arm. The three of them were transported separately to the hospital. Meanwhile, Tim called his wife from the ambulance to tell her about the crash.
“Tim was on the other end of the phone saying, 'There’s been an accident.' And all I remember him saying was 'Ashley’s not breathing.' And he just kept repeating that. That’s all I remember,” Patty said. “I got the hospital information, grabbed my purse, jumped in the car and drove to the hospital — praying the whole way.”
“In that instant, in that moment, life just changes. It just does. And I know it’s a cliche, but it does,” Tim said.
Tim and Patty never saw their daughter awake again.
When they arrived at the hospital, doctors notified the family that Ashley had severe brain injuries. She was in a coma for nearly a week.
“You’re in a room with a doctor who’s trying to tell you that your daughter has severe brain damage. And that you have to make decisions. Life-impacting decisions. And that, for me, was surreal. It’s like it wasn’t really happening. Or it shouldn’t be happening — but it was happening,” Tim said.
Ashley remained in a coma for several days. Doctors told her family she would not likely survive.
“That was the good and bad about those days, because at least we had a week to be with her by her bedside and hope that she would come out of it,” Tim said.
Four days after the crash, the family sought a second opinion from another doctor, who confirmed Ashley only had 5 percent brain function.
“That’s what ultimately helped us make the decision to take Ashley off of life-support,” Patty said.
On Nov. 9, 2007, Ashley was taken off of life support, and her organs were donated to six people.
“There’s a reason it happened. I don’t know what that reason is, and I’ll probably never know on this side of heaven, but I think she had already served her purpose in the short time she was here,” Tim said.
Now, in 2018, the Wooden family want to share their story to emphasize the importance of safe driving and not getting distracted at the wheel.
“Whether you’re talking on the phone, or receiving a text or an email — no matter what you think, (that) you’re not distracted, but you are, and that’s when things happen. That’s when accidents happen,” Tim said.
“It’s never worth it because people will be impacted. We were impacted. Our family was impacted. He was impacted — the guy who caused the accident. I’m sure to this day, he’s had to live with that,” Tim said.
“What we went through," Patty said, "was just utter despair and agony. Even physically. I mean, we were just so emotionally distraught and so much so that there was a physical pain to that emotional pain.
“We had to go through a process of forgiving this guy that ultimately killed our daughter," she said. "Luckily we have our faith, and that’s what helped us through it. Without our faith, without understanding forgiveness, and knowing what forgiveness does and how that will free us — and it makes us not angry and hateful. We don’t hate him. We don’t wish him ill will. I’ve forgiven him, and that’s a huge part of the healing process. But this is something I don’t wish on any family. It could all be avoided by driving carefully.”