Everyone remembers the weather that day. Hot. Sunny. A picture-perfect afternoon. How could anything so awful happen on such a magnificent day?
"It was August 14, 1993. The sun was shining and the sky was the bluest color you could ever imagine," Tina Haber recalls. Nearly 10 years after the tragedy, she remembers details with the indelible clarity that accompanies life-altering events. "I was home on break from college. It was four days before my 21st birthday."
She spent her birthday in the intensive care unit at Charleston Area Medical Center. On her milestone 21st birthday, family members buried her little sister.
Her sister, 11-year-old Jessica Marie Ayers, was part of her expanded family, a sibling she gained through her mother's marriage to Charley Ayers Sr. of Pinch.
On that fateful day in 1993, Tina took Jessie for a ride on an ATV. They joined the rest of the family for birthday cake. Then, Jessie begged Tina for another ride.
Tina took her, of course. "She was like that," Tina said. "She would pester you until you did what she wanted. Such a funny little kid. She had a fun spirit that anyone would fall in love with."
They were having a great time on the ATV. Then, disaster struck. Rumbling down the hill on the four-wheeler, gleeful Jessie holding on, Tina heard the gears make an odd, growling noise. "We were flying down this hill. There were no brakes. I tried first gear, but it was jammed in neutral.
"I told Jessie to hang on. Maybe I should have told her to jump, but I didn't. She did what I said and hung on for her life. I was almost to the level ground when my wheel went into the ditch and drug us into a tree. We crashed."
Breaking the eerie silence that followed, she called to Jessie, asking if she was all right. Again and again, she asked. "She never said a thing."
A neighbor saw the injured girls — Tina in the ditch, Jessie lying beside the tree. He raced to the Ayers home. Alternating CPR with his brother, Charley Ayers tried to revive his daughter. "We had her breathing with a faint heartbeat," he said, "but she never regained consciousness. They lost her when she got to the emergency room."
One life was lost, another irrevocably damaged. Tina remembers sweating and chilling and feeling faint, knowing somehow that this was how it must feel to die. "If the paramedics had not gotten to me when they had, I would not be here."
Taken by helicopter to CAMC, she suffered life-threatening internal bleeding, a lacerated liver, crushed pelvis and a broken hand and arm. She required extensive surgery and extended rehabilitation to learn to walk again. She copes with chronic pain.