Jessica Adams couldn't wait to be a teen-ager. Her mother can still hear her running around the house telling everybody, "I'm going to be 13! I'm going to be 13!"
Two weeks after her birthday, she died. She turned 13 on Sept. 15. She had a big party. On Sept. 30, she was killed in an ATV accident on Camp Mountaineer Road near her Morgantown home. "She brought her yearbook pictures home that day and we talked about them," said her mother, Cindy Adams. "She left the house at 6 p.m. By 7, she was dead." Townspeople grieved for her. "When we left the funeral home, there must have been over 50 cars in the procession," her mother said. "I've never seen anything like it."
She was a seventh-grader at South Middle School. Students decorated her locker with her favorite things: a Butterfinger candy bar, Winterfresh gum, stuffed animals, jewelry, flowers, notes and ribbons. They made a banner: "Goodbye, Jess, We'll Miss You." Every student signed it. They used notebook paper to make cards with personal messages: "Jessica Will Make a Beautiful Angel" and "Jessica Is in Good Hands Now. God Will Take Care of Her."
The art teacher drew her portrait. Jessica loved the teen dances at the armory. Friends dedicated songs to her. At the accident site, they created a memorial — a cross surrounded by flags, stuffed animals, pictures, notes and flowers. The school raised $800 in a fund drive. The family put the money toward her headstone.
The night of her death, family members saw one of the WVU football players and told him what happened. The Mountaineers said a prayer in Jessica's memory and dedicated the next home game to her. They put a banner on the WVU bus that read, "In Memory of Jessica." Her picture appeared on the front page of The Dominion Post. The paper ran articles calling for ATV regulations. Her death prompted WVU to prepare a video on ATV safety featuring Jessica and conversations with her friends. It will be distributed to students in Monongalia County schools. "Everybody loved her," her mother said. "She was so full of life." She was an honor student and a cheerleader. She took baton lessons and dance lessons. "She always did everything she was supposed to do. She would come home and do her homework every day before she went out to play. She was up every morning at 6 a.m., getting ready to go to school. She was a perfectionist, about her hair, about everything. She brushed her teeth four times a day. She got me to quit smoking."
One night, at the trailer park where she lived, she met up with a 16-year-old boy who had taken the keys to his stepbrother's ATV. Jessica got on the back. They picked up another friend, a 14-year-old girl, who needed a ride home. When she got to her house, the girl asked if she could take the ATV for a spin. Jessica got on the back. "People heard Jessica yelling at her to slow down," Cindy Adams said. "She lost control and ran up an embankment and hit a tree. She was thrown into the woods. Jessica stayed on the ATV. It turned over on her." Neither girl wore a helmet. The 16-year-old boy found the wrecked four-wheeler and ran to tell Jessica's mom. "When I got there, Jessica was lying spread-eagle on the bank. Her neck looked funny. An EMT was on the scene. I was shaking and yelling, 'Save her! Save her!' She had broken her neck. They were getting a heart rate, but they couldn't get an organized rhythm." Her aorta split and filled her with blood, and her lung collapsed, her mother said. "They didn't know about the aorta until they took X-rays, or they might have saved her." The driver survived a punctured lung and broken vertebrae. For her burial, Jessica wore the jeans her mother gave her for her birthday; a necklace from her boyfriend; a dolphin ankle bracelet from Florida given to her by her mother's friend. "And I always made sure she had socks," Adams said tearfully, "so I put a pair of my socks on her with her favorite shoes." After Jessica died, the trailer park manager installed a sign forbidding ATVs and dirt bikes in the trailer complex. Violators pay a $500 fine. "All these kids around here are on ATVs," Adams said. "That's all my son wanted. He's 6 feet tall and weighs 170 pounds. I'd just gotten him one so he could ride with the other kids. I got one with a kick-start so Jessica couldn't ride it. She was mad because I didn't buy her one. I told her I didn't want her to get hurt." Her son's ATV is for sale. In the meantime, he isn't permitted to ride it. Not that he wants to. "He lost his sister over an ATV." All the kids have helmets, she said, but they don't always wear them. "I would always say, 'You boys make sure to wear your helmets.' But they would leave them on my deck and go." She would ban ATVs for anyone under 18. "I know West Virginia is hilly and people need them, but they aren't for children," she said. "The weight of it alone can crush them." To contact staff writer Sandy Wells, use e-mail or call 348-5173.