While driving to a local Taco Mac on July 7, three 2012 Lassiter High School graduates — Ryan Aschenbach, who was driving, Tyler Seaman and Christopher Heitzman — were involved in a crash on Trickum Road in northeast Cobb. Aschenbach died in the wreck, Heitzman was critically injured and Seaman walked away with very few physical injuries.
And while each family continues to search for ways to heal from the accident, the Heitzman and Seaman’s loved ones said they are fortunate to not only still have their sons with them today but for all the love and support they’ve received from friends, the community and even strangers over the last several months.
“We’d love to just say thank you,” said Heitzman’s mother Debbie. “I think the rallying around the boys after the accident and support for the boys and their families was just amazing!”
For her family specifically, a meal has been prepared by members of the community and brought to their home every other day and will continue through February. Neighbors and friends have stepped up to help take care of their youngest son, Davis, who is a freshman at Lassiter; they receive hundreds of cards regularly from individuals expressing their admiration and hope for Christopher; and fundraisers have been held to raise money for his care and volunteers come sit with Christopher while his parents run errands.
“In the middle of your darkest hour, the light shines from unexpected sources,” Debbie said. “To know that support is there and you can feel people’s presence, you can feel everything that’s coming through them, it’s just incredible.”
Christopher returned home after spending one month in Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta where he was initially sent after the accident, followed by a four-month stay at The Shephard Center in Atlanta where the staff helped the 18-year-old recoover enough to go home.
He is currently recovering from a long list of injuries including a diffuse head injury that caused multiple bleeds in his brain, a broken jaw, collar bone, shoulder blade and pelvis, a lacerated kidney and liver, ruptured bladder and collapsed lung.
“At the beginning it was really minute to minute and that’s why I couldn’t leave,” said Debbie, who stayed by her son’s side for the first 32 days.
But she remembered even from day one the frequent visits from friends and family at her oldest child’s bedside.
“It was just so wonderful. The number of people who came to visit in the hospital,” she recalled.
Christopher was discharged from The Shephard Center about three weeks ago and needs around-the-clock care. But since returning home, Debbie said her son continues to improve and they believe that being home has been good for him, especially as friends like Tyler Seaman, neighbors and loved ones continue to come by to visit him daily.
“Christopher has made huge progress … he is having to relearn all the basics, swallowing, talking, walking and trying to regain his strength with the goal for him to be independent,” Debbie said. “We forever live in hope that he will emerge from his coma and be able to communicate. All Randy and I want for Christmas is for him to say, ‘Mom and Dad, I love you.’”
For 18-year-old Tyler, who remembers the crash vividly and only required a four-hour hospital stay for a concussion and cut on his head, it’s still really tough to talk about that night. But said he too has witnessed first-hand what it’s like to get so much support from a community.
“I just remember that night getting on Twitter and every single Tweet was, ‘Pray for Ryan and Chris.’ Even kids who didn’t go to Lassiter,” he said. “I had 70 texts just from anybody who had my number and I got my phone about the same time that I heard Ryan wasn’t going to make it and I had no idea what condition Chris was in.
“It was amazing and crazy. I didn’t realize how fast news can travel. It was just amazing. Everyone knew so fast.”
Less than five hours after the accident, around 11:30 p.m., members of the school community rounded up enough people to have a prayer vigil at Lassiter High for the three students.
His mother, Kelly Seaman, said, “I remember the kids coming and going, 20 people sitting in Tyler’s room because Tyler needed the kids around and the kids needed Tyler too … and it was just amazing.
“It was beautiful and it was a testament to these young men as well and what fine young men these guys are, that the community was so compassionate and forthcoming with just anything that any of us needed,” she said. “People were there with food and support and prayers and I know we’ve had a lot of fundraisers to help with Christopher and Ryan’s bills.”
As for what the Georgia College and State University freshman has learned and continues to learn from the tragedy, it’s to appreciate every day.
“When Ryan walked out of his door that night, (his parents) said, ‘We love you, see you later,’ and it was the last time they’d ever say it. And with Chris still here, every time I leave him, I tell him, ‘I love you, man,’” Tyler said. “You just never know when the last time is going to be that you can tell someone how much they mean to you, especially for Christmas when you have everyone around.”
The young man has continued to stay in touch with Aschenbach’s family, David and Amy Aschenbach and their children, Summer, April and Zach, visiting them when he’s home from school.
“They seem to be doing better when I see them,” he said. “I always had a pretty good relationship with his parents just because Ryan was really, really close with his parents, so when I’d go over we’d spend time with them.”
The Heitzman family would also like to personally thank Dale Palmer, Andrew Wilson, Coleman Joiner, Allie Van Alstine, Jamie Cole, Terry and Sue Hampel, Brian and Lea Panosian, Pastor Steve Lyle and Gail Lyle, Bobby Bourne, Vicki Anthes, Lassiter High baseball Coach Scott Kelly, Fredi and Pam Gonzales, Tanglewood and Tanglewood North subdivision neighbors, Susan and Marley Fiveash, Kathleen Snow, Menchie’s Frozen Yogurt, Catering Cajun and Sandy Plains Baseball.