Jamie Carpenter was 12, a seventh-grade student at Brooks-ville Elementary School in Calhoun County. She was a cheerleader, played flute in the band, sang in the choir, played softball.
She was petite, had shoulder-length dark blonde hair, freckles and snappy brown eyes. She had a dog, a cat and a horse. She wanted to be a veterinarian. Instead, her body lies in a crypt in a Wirt County cemetery. Neighbors built the crypt. They painted the inside pink, her favorite color. "She always said she didn't want to be buried underground," said her dad, Tim Carpenter of Annamoriah. She died 12 years ago, just before Thanksgiving. On the Saturday before deer season, she took a friend for a short ride on her father's ATV. "They had trouble on that model with the brakes," he said. "When she slowed down, the brakes grabbed or something, and the ATV rolled over." She died the next day at Camden-Clark Memorial Hospital.
The memory never stops hurting, not even after 12 years, said her mother, Lisa Carpenter of Brohard. "I used to hear people say they could take anything but something happening to their kids. I tell them not to say that. You either deal with it or you blow your head off."
"You just learn to live with it," her father said.
But every year, from Thanksgiving through Christmas, living with it and dealing with it gets tougher. "I hate the holidays," Lisa said. The Carpenters divorced a couple of years ago. "Something like that puts a lot of strain on a marriage," he said.
Jamie talked a lot about dying. Her parents believe she knew she wouldn't live long. "She told me six months before she died that she wanted to be buried on top of the ground like Jesus," Lisa said. "I told her that was silly. She said, 'Well, I'm just telling you that, Mom,' like somehow she knew. "She told me if anything happened to her, she didn't want to be put on machines. I'm a nurse. I realize now that when people talk that way, when they say they are dying, they are." The accident happened less than a quarter of a mile from her home. Her mother rushed her to the closest hospital. "I knew that would be faster than an ambulance," Lisa said. "In the car, she told me she was hot. I knew that was the first indication of internal bleeding." Doctors stabilized her and sent her to Camden-Clark for surgery. She kept telling her parents she was going to die. She told her doctor she wouldn't make it. Her mother remembers vividly the last time she saw Jamie alive. "At the surgery door, she said she didn't want to go. I told her she had to go, that it was the only way to get better. She knew more than I did." In her casket, they placed her diary, a picture of her horse, Blaze, and horse stencils. "That horse just stood around and looked for her for weeks," her father said. "I think animals know." In his job as a gas well tender, he has to ride an ATV. "If it wasn't for work, I wouldn't ride one at all. I don't think they should be on any main roads. Any kid under 15 should be riding with an adult and should wear a helmet." Jamie's mother said she never gave a thought to ATV dangers until Jamie's death. "Parents are very ignorant about this," she said. "I think more about it now, but it's too late." To contact staff writer Sandy Wells, use e-mail or call 348-5173.