I was a specialist living in a three-bedroom, two-story condo in Hinesville, Ga. My roommates, Lee and Eric (names changed to protect their privacy), were the same rank. They enjoyed having friends over after work and for clubbing get-togethers on weekends.

Every Friday, the guys went out, had a good time and, for the most part, came home when everything closed. On Saturday, they would get up, wash their cars or run errands, and head to the club again. 

Shortly after we moved in together, my relationship with Eric progressed to more than “just friends.” We were spending time together outside of the house on weekends before the guys went to the club. I didn’t enjoy that scene, so I usually stayed home. Eric was always there in the morning, so that part of his routine didn’t bother me.

Everything was going well for us until the one Saturday night I will never forget. 

It was mid-June and, as usual, Eric and I went out together on a Saturday. By this time, we had picked up a fourth temporary roommate – Eric’s squad leader, Kyle, who was in the process of getting out of the Army.

When Eric and I got home, Kyle asked if I was going to the club. I agreed to join them and got dressed. However, Eric didn’t want me tagging along with the group, and we got into a huge argument in front of our friends. Angry, I changed my clothes and didn’t go. 

Sometime after midnight, Lee came home, left again and returned for good at 2 a.m. Kyle strolled in at about 3:30, but Eric still hadn’t shown up. I was pretty angry that he was so late, especially after our earlier argument. When 6:30 rolled around and he was still out, I figured I would get even by not being there when he finally came home. I got dressed, gathered my laundry and headed to post. 

As I entered a curve near Fort Stewart’s main gate, I saw a car similar to Eric’s flipped upside down in a grassy area on the side of the road. The driver’s side of the vehicle showed heavy damage from where it had struck a tree. When I got to the gate, I asked the guards if they knew what had happened or the identity of the owner.

They told me I should go to the MP station. There, I was told to go the Criminal Investigation Division office. Of course, no one was there, and I was starting to feel like I was being given the runaround. I decided I’d better go home.

Kyle was gone when I got there. Fearing the worst, I ran upstairs and busted into Lee’s room. I told him to get up and come with me to Eric’s battalion. When we got there, I saw Kyle and knew what I was about to hear was not going to be good. Kyle told me Eric was dead and his passenger, whom he was giving a ride home, was in the hospital. 

I later learned that after they left the club, Eric, Kyle and some other friends had gone to Hardee’s to eat. Afterward, as Eric was taking a friend back to the barracks, he got into a street race with another car. As he approached a curve near the main gate doing about 70 mph, his steering wheel locked up and he was unable to maintain control of the car. He then struck a tree and flipped over. 

Eric didn’t drink, so alcohol wasn’t a factor in the accident – but his negligence was. He had received a recall notice from Pontiac in reference to the steering wheel locking, but he never took his car to the dealership to have it checked out. Another thing he didn’t do was wear his seatbelt. He was ejected from the vehicle and died on impact. 

Eric would have turned 21 that year. He left behind a 1-year-old daughter, as well as his mother, brother and a lot of friends who loved him dearly. He lost his life because of indiscipline – he got caught up in a street race, didn’t wear his seatbelt and failed to properly maintain his vehicle by not correcting a known manufacturing defect.

Some people believe that when it’s your time to go, it’s just your time to go. I believe it’s only your time to go if you were doing everything right and still couldn’t prevent it. 

A lot of people were forever affected by the bad choices Eric made that day, and we must learn from his mistakes. Whether you’re the driver or a passenger, always wear your seatbelt. It can save your life. Also, make sure you take care of your vehicle, fixing any defects as soon as you become aware of them. Life is short. Don’t rush it. It could all be over in a flash.

Editor’s note: To see if your vehicle, tires, child car seats or other equipment has a recall, visit the NHTSA’s website at www.nhtsa.gov/recalls.