Jeff Hielkema speaking to the students at BWHS on April 27.  Photo by Kaye Bird
Jeff Hielkema speaking to the students at BWHS on April 27. Photo by Kaye Bird

BALDWIN, WI - The prom may be over for local school districts, but the message from Jeff Hielkema is timeless; we need to hear it, our children need to hear it, and then we all need to hear it again.

From his website, www.lifewins.net are these words. "Hello. My name is Jeff Hielkema. I recently formed Life Wins to honor the life of my daughter, Stormi. Stormi died at the age of 18 on November 26, 2005, as the result of a car accident. Her accident involved alcohol, not wearing a seat belt, the use of a cell phone while driving, and driving while tired. In other words, she didn't do one thing right. I can think of no better way to honor her short life, than to make sure I do everything I can to keep another life from ending for the same reasons."

On April 27, Hielkema was invited to the Baldwin-Woodville High School to speak to the students about making responsible driving decisions. The prom was in just a few days, and the district wanted to do its part to ensure that their students heard Hielkema's message before the weekend when the excitement of the event might lead to some foolish decisions.

Hielkema took to the stage at 9:00 a.m. last Wednesday first acknowledging that B-W students have had a rough year, "You've lost some friends," he said adding, "I even hesitated about doing this presentation here because of this rough year, but the parents of one of the young people who died asked me to come." So he did.

He then paused, looked at the students and said, "There is no greater joy in life than the birth of a child. There is no greater sorrow in life than the death of a child." And Jeff knows that sorrow first hand-it's a pain that is still there five years after the death of Stormi.

His website promises that he will not hold back on the details of his daughter's death, and he didn't. "I want to show students what can happen when they make poor driving decisions. I want them to know they are not invincible." And he wants all of us to know how important just five seconds can be-the five seconds it takes to reach down and pick up a cell phone, to dial a number, or to text just one word. Those five seconds can be the difference between life and death-literally.

At the time of her death, Stormi was a freshman at Century College in White Bear Lake, Minnesota where she was studying both psychology and political science. In June of that same year, she had graduated from BWHS.

The day after Thanksgiving of 2006 Stormi was returning from working one of two jobs when she made a series of bad decisions. First she used a fake ID to purchase wine. She went to a party and drank, she drove drunk, she engaged in a two-minute cell phone call, and she may have been reaching for her phone six minutes later when a text message came in and her car went airborne. And this young lady, who according to her close friends always wore a seatbelt, was not belted in. She was also speeding, and because of the alcohol in her system, her reaction time was down. Her car was 12 feet off the ground when it hit a pole at the intersection of County E and 110th Street near Baldwin.

The next morning, Hielkema who is a local EMT heard the message on his scanner. "Female ejected; one car rollover."

"It wasn't in my jurisdiction, but when my pager went off, I knew it was my little girl," he said. The next thing he remembers is ambulance director Sandy Reed from Woodville pounding on his door. She took him to the emergency room at BAMC. Two deer hunters had found her alive, but she had lain in 12 degree weather for almost seven hours before being discovered.

Because of the fake ID in her possession, the police initially didn't know who she was. At this point Hielkema looked at the students and said, "If you have a fake ID, get rid of it now!"

With his EMT experience, Jeff knew his daughter had very little chance of surviving. She was life flighted to Regions Hospital in St. Paul. "When I got there I was ushered into the Bereavement Room with other family members," he said. There he said goodbye to Stormi. "There's my little girl," he remembered thinking. "All my dreams and hopes gone; there they lay."

The auditorium was absolutely silent on that Wednesday morning. When Jeff had finished his story, he said "I'm not going to preach." Then he changed his mind. "Okay, for two minutes I will. You are responsible for your life, your passengers' lives, other drivers', those on the sidewalk-you're responsible for their lives. Don't drink and drive, don't get in a car without wearing a seatbelt, don't move until all your friends put their seatbelts on, don't text, and don't use a cell phone while driving."

He paused, and softly said, "Don't make your parents be the ones up here on stage."

"He added, "Stormi made every mistake there is. I want you to make good decisions. When you do that, Life Wins!"