Drunk driver's family suffered, too

Accident victim shares lessons learned

Staff writer

Jared Estes had every right to be angry after a drunk driver, 45-year-old Louis Kebert, driving a Porsche on Kellogg Ave. in Wichita, rammed into the back of his car, killing his wife of six months, Paige. The car exploded upon impact, leaving Estes with severe burns on his upper body and head after a stranger pulled him from the burning vehicle. Two other women in the car also were severely injured.

The accident happened in March 2005, and in June 2006, Kebert, who had two previous DUI convictions, was sentenced to 23 years in prison.

Estes told his story April 23 to about 50 people who attended a county town hall meeting at Centre High School sponsored by the Marion County Substance Abuse Council.

“I’m not here to give you advice,” he said. “But I have some stories and lessons I’ve learned that I want to pass on to you.”

Paige was his high school sweetheart, and when Estes learned two weeks after the crash that she did not survive the accident, he lost all desire to live. It was one of his darkest moments.

“It was like somebody scooped out your insides,” he said.

He resolved to visit her grave someday, and that gave him the motivation to bear months of excruciating pain and heavy medication.

Estes saw what the accident did to his family and Paige’s family — the sadness, the heartbreak. His parents moved from his hometown of Bucklin to Wichita and spent seven months there to be near him.

Sometimes, upon returning to his hospital room after one of many difficult surgeries, Estes was greeted by members of Kebert’s family, who expressed their sorrow and apologized for what had happened to him and his wife.

Another dark moment came when Estes finally was able to visit his wife’s grave. It didn’t turn out as he had planned during those long, agonizing days in the hospital. He couldn’t kneel down; he couldn’t use his hands to place flowers on her grave. At that moment, he looked at his life as futile and without purpose. He felt it would have been better for him to have died in the accident. He wanted to give up.

Then he met his wife’s young siblings when his mother-in-law coincidentally brought flowers while he was at the gravesite. They looked so much like Paige, reminding him of her, and he realized she would have wanted him to live and be happy.

“I realized I was being selfish,” he said. “I decided I wanted to come back for them.”

During the sentencing phase of the court trial that found Kebert guilty of murder, family members on both sides were allowed to express how they felt about the sentence — why it should be more lenient or more severe. Estes said when the defendant’s family spoke, he noticed they were more sympathetic to himself than to the defendant.

Afterward, he heard Kebert’s 19-year-old son say, “Well, Mom, he finally did it. He finally killed somebody.”

The boy’s statement touched his heart as Estes realized that not only his family but also the defendant’s family had been coping with a difficult situation for a long time and had been deeply hurt by what had happened. At that point, the anger that had built up inside of him dissipated.

“I wasn’t angry anymore,” he said.

Last November, Estes quit his job as marketing director for Hartman Arena in Wichita to be a fulltime inspirational speaker. He calls his presentation, “Fire Back.”

“I’m thankful I’m here,” he said. “We all have struggles in our lives and need to help each other. It’s important to reach out to friends, family, and faith to get out of our darkest moments.”

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