As the saying goes, knowledge is power.
The way Jordy Curtis sees it, knowledge is life.
She was 16 years old when she nearly lost hers.
Although her death would have been marked as the result of an accident, knowledge could have saved her life.
As it turned out, that job fell to luck instead.
In the summer of 2017, Curtis had hit a high point of youth: She was a multisport athlete at Unity High School approaching her junior year.
Her parents had bought her a car for her sweet 16 — a 2011 Dodge Charger, white, that could get up to 370 horsepower.
It was that car, which she had loved from the start, that she was driving in July, heading back toward Tolono after dropping off a friend.
At the time, she'd held a driver's license for all of three months. But there were still some things that were fresh on her mind from the course.
"I knew what to do if I saw a deer — I knew not to swerve," Curtis said.
And she knew to pull the car over if she couldn't see, which is what happened while she was driving on County Road 1200.
"The weather picked up very quickly," she said. "The visibility became zero, and I could no longer drive in the rain."
So she pulled over, her car bookended by two power poles that lined the road.
"While I was sitting there pulled over, very quickly the wind picked up and then the poles snapped," Curtis said. "I heard them snapping, and I heard them falling.
"At that point, I couldn't see out of my windshield, so I wasn't sure if the poles were on my car or if the lines were on my car."
This was the part they didn't cover in driver's ed. All she knew was that she wanted out — out of a car she imagined exploding at any second.
"That's the moment when I tried to get out," Curtis said. "The power lines were blocking off my driver's side door, so I got over to the passenger's side and got out. Then, I jumped over the lines and touched them, then ran into the cornfield."
Had the wires been live, 69 kilovolts of electricity could have coursed through her body as soon as she had made contact.
"They claim a transformer blew, and it killed the lines that were in my reach," Curtis said.
There had been one live wire above her, but she hadn't touched it.
She ran into a cornfield, away from the car, unsuccessfully trying to push buttons on her rain-soaked phone to dial 9-1-1.
"A few moments later, I realized there was a car behind mine, and I saw people running toward me, so I went toward them," Curtis said. "They said, 'Come on, we can help you,' so I went toward their car.
"At that point, the domino effect of the poles started — so all the poles that were behind my car were starting to lean. The car behind me put themselves in jeopardy to get me in the car."
The entire scene played out in 15 minutes, as Curtis remembers it. Eventually, she met her family at a nearby intersection, where they were joined by a state trooper.
"The state trooper could not believe I had got out and was alive," she said. "When I got out initially, I was like, 'I survived a storm.' And then when I talked to higher-up, more educated people, I heard, 'You are so lucky to be here.'
"That's when I kind of dug into why I am so lucky to be here."
The Illinois Department of Transportation estimates that about 3,000 drivers collide with power poles each year.
Not all of these accidents leave power lines or poles down, but until recently, there wasn't a specific section in high school drivers' education courses that addressed such a situation.
Following the accident, Ameren's Brian Bretsch said, Curtis "reached out to our operating center there in Champaign and asked if we could come out and do a presentation to share the important message of downed-power-line safety with her high school classmates."
Not only did the power company take her up on her idea; it also decided to put on a presentation for members of the Illinois High School and College Driver Education Association.
"We started in Quincy and did a presentation there where we parked a car and put some power lines on it and invited the media and some high school driver's education teachers," Bretsch said. "We talked with them after, and they said, 'We've never talked about this in class.'"
At regional meetings, representatives offered similar feedback.
Only "one or two said yes," they had covered that scenario in class, "so we asked them if there was a need to create a module, and they said yes," Bretsch said. "Some of the more seasoned instructors would have the local fire department come out every few years and talk, and then they would barely touch on the issue, but a lot of the younger instructors we had come across had never heard of this."
Ameren partnered with the association to create a module consisting of a seven-minute video — featuring Curtis — and a quiz, takeaway sheet and more. Last week, after a year of collaboration, the material was sent to at least 500 high schools, according to association past president Chris Wingate.
"I think they absolutely identified a need," Wingate said. "I know that over the past 20 years, not I nor my colleagues have ever covered downed power lines. It's a new subject.
"I think it's going to have a lot of use. I think the vast majority of teachers are going to look at this and stick it in because it's a topic of value."
Wingate could see the IDOT estimate surpassing 3,000, given the rise in distracted drivers.
"More and more people are looking at their phone and running off the road and coming into contact with utility lines," he said. "That just kind of played right into us going, 'OK, there is a need to keep people safe.'"
Curtis said she already knows of two students whose lives have been saved because of her story.
Not too long after her accident, she told it at her high school to a crowd of some who still believed "it's something that can't happen to you," Curtis said.
But at least two of her better friends listened to her — and lived.
"Two weeks after I gave that presentation ... it happened to two students from (Unity) 2 miles north of my accident," she said. "They called me in the car before first responders got there. I was like, 'Whatever you do, stay in the car.' It was nice to know I directly saved lives."
She would like to keep spreading her story and her knowledge of what to do in that situation. Even before the incident guided her major declarations at Parkland College — graphic design and marketing — she knew it was something to use.
"When Ameren first reached me as a 17-year-old girl still in high school, they weren't expecting me to be all in," Curtis said. "They weren't expecting me to want to do more or to talk about my story. But every door of opportunity that opened up, I told their representatives that I wanted in."
Not that any of this has been easy.
"I do (tire of talking about it) just because I have pretty bad post-traumatic stress disorder from it," she said. "I've had to seek help. It's gotten easier over time, but that doesn't make the situation any easier. But it's gotten easier to talk about."
Already, Curtis said she has had some teachers across the state let her know they'll be using the module — and her story — with their classes.
"I've had teachers reach out and say that it's going to be super beneficial," she said. "I'm excited to have schools reach out after seeing the video and ask me to come speak to classes. I'm excited.
"I don't know what else I can do. I've been on the news — not that everyone watches the news. I don't know what I else I could do to get the word out to everyone, other than to start now, and hammer it inside driver's ed."
Source: The (Champaign) News-Gazette, https://bit.ly/2Lco2Wd
Information from: The News-Gazette, http://www.news-gazette.com
This is an AP-Illinois Exchange story offered by The (Champaign) News-Gazette.