Sunday marks 1-year anniversary of Cortland wreck that killed four teens

By January Rutherford and Jordan Richart 

It’s difficult for Courtney Arthur to believe a whole year has passed since a tragic accident in Cortland changed her life.

On Aug. 25, 2018, she was one of five youth to survive a late-night wreck on State Road 258 that claimed the lives of four other teens.

Arthur was close friends with Brittany Watson, 15, of Brownstown, Jenna Helton, 14, of Seymour and Nevaeh Law, 14, of Brownstown, and even though she had just met Martin Martinez, 16, of Seymour that day, she already considered him a friend, too.

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Those who were injured but survived the wreck were Arthur, who suffered a shoulder and head injury, Allerika Henline of Brownstown, Victoria Valdivia of Seymour, Starlit Watson of Brownstown and Victoria Burchard of Medora.

They all had been at a party celebrating Valdivia, Brittany and Henline’s 15th birthdays. The wreck occurred when the kids were helping push Valdivia’s mother’s broken-down vehicle back to her house and were struck by another vehicle.

Martinez is credited with saving lives that night by pushing girls out of the way of the vehicle that hit them. He has become known as Superman in the community for his actions.

“I want people to know that his mom raised a good kid,” Arthur said. “He cared about others more than he cared about himself.”

Now 15, Arthur, a sophomore at Seymour High School, still struggles with the loss, emotions and frightening memories from that night.

“It’s like it just happened yesterday,” she said ahead of Sunday’s one-year anniversary. “Working through it is still really hard. There will be days when I have really bad breakdowns.”

But she has found some relief and comfort, she added.

“A lot of music and just my friends being there for me and family,” she said of what has helped her cope.

Whenever she’s having a bad day, Courtney said she prefers to be by herself, but sometimes, she reaches out by calling someone and asking if they want to do something.

The effect the wreck has had on Arthur also has taken a toll on her parents.

“It’s hard on them, too, seeing me go through it,” Courtney said.

Courtney and her family plan to attend the second 4 Ever Young Motorcycle Ride and Concert on Sept. 14. The motorcycle ride is scheduled to start at noon that day leaving from Harmony Park at The Brooklyn Pizza Co. in Seymour. Signup will begin at 10 a.m.

The concert, along with a motorcycle and car show, will be after the ride at 4 p.m. at the same venue. Performers include the Ransom Band, Reply, Levi Croquart and Mama’s Headache. Both the ride and concert are free.

The event is a thank you to the community for the support shown to the families in raising money to help pay for funerals, headstones and medical bills.

Courtney said the outpouring of support from the community wasn’t a surprise.

“Brittany, Jenna and Vaeh pretty much knew everybody, and everybody knew them,” she said.

Whenever she thinks about the friends she lost, Courtney remembers the good times and focuses on the people they were.

Nevaeh, or “Vaeh” as she was called by friends, was the “crazy one,” Courtney said.

“If you were having a bad day, she would make sure to say something, especially something inappropriate, to make it better,” she said.

Jenna kept to herself and was more shy and quiet than the others, Courtney said.

“Brittany was more of the outgoing one,” Courtney said. “She wasn’t afraid to talk to anybody. She would straight up sit and talk to you for hours about animals.”

That’s why Watson’s mother, Jackie Watson, organized a fundraiser for Red Sky Rescue on what would have been Brittany’s 16th birthday. Between 250 and 300 people attended, donating supplies and around $500 to the organization.

Brittany had just signed up to volunteer at the shelter before the accident.

“It was her dream to have a shelter one day because she loved animals,” Jackie said. “She wanted to save all the animals she could.”

Although in some ways it feels like it was just yesterday the wreck happened, in other ways, it feels like it was an entire lifetime ago, Jackie said.

“It’s been hard,” she said. “It’s been really hard on all the families.”

The holidays are the worst because it’s a time when people are supposed to be happy and spending time with family and loved ones.

“Getting back-to-school supplies was another difficult moment,” Jackie said.

But she gets through the days by staying busy working and taking care of her other two children, Jason and Starlit.

“Once I slow down, I worry,” she said. “I’ve always been about my kids, and I’m really that way now.”

Her children have since battled anger and behavior issues, she said. There will be times of progress and then other times where they will regress, she added.

Courtney said the wreck and loss of her friends impacted her in ways she didn’t expect.

“It changed my attitude and pretty much everything about me,” she said. “I get more aggressive easily, and I’m short-tempered. I get angry.”

She tried counseling for a while but quit going because she didn’t feel like it was helping.

One activity that has helped is archery. She joined the high school archery team last year.

“Our coach told us when we’re shooting to put whatever is troubling us in the middle and shoot for it to get it out of your life,” she said.

Jackie has noticed changes in herself, as well. Her memory used to be very clear, but these days, she has trouble remembering what happened days before or small things, she said.

She wants people to remember her daughter for her kind soul and how she would have made contributions here if given the opportunity.

“She was a smart, beautiful young lady who wanted to help any person and animal in this world,” she said. “She had a lot ahead of her, and I think she could have made a great change in this community.”

Nevaeh’s mother, Torre Collins, said she never thought she would have to go through losing a child. Although she has been told coping becomes easier with time, she hasn’t reached that point yet.

“I wake up every day having to miss my daughter,” she said. “I miss laughing with her, getting her up for school, yelling at her about homework and I really miss her hugs.”

Collins said she has become close with Jackie throughout the last year, stayed busy with work and leaned on her family for support.

She also has focused on taking care of her other children, Mikel and Madeline.

Collins said it helps she still hears from Nevaeh’s friends who share stories with her.

“The thing that always keeps coming up is that Nevaeh loved everybody,” she said. “She was so kind, and it didn’t matter if you were a stranger, she just treated you with kindness.”

She will never forget receiving the call one year ago and the aftermath of the tragedy, she said.

Nevaeh is buried at White Creek Cemetery, and Collins visits her each chance she can to feel closer to her.

“I talk with her a lot, and even though she can’t talk back, I know she hears me,” she said.

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What: 4 Ever Young Motorcycle Ride and Concert

Where: Harmony Park at The Brooklyn Pizza Co. in Seymour

When: Sept. 14; ride begins at noon with registration at 10 a.m., concert begins at 4 p.m.

Cost: Free