The 1995 Mustang convertible driven by Dos Pueblos High School senior Thomas Dwelley is a crumpled shell of its former self. It’s hard to believe that Dwelley was in the car — and survived — when the vehicle careened off Gibraltar Road and landed 200 feet below.
When Dwelley, now back in school, removes his cap, the thin, vertical scar on the side of his head is a reminder of the brain surgery he underwent following his 18-hour ordeal, alone and injured in terrain below Gibraltar Road.
Were it not for the roll bar his father had installed in the Mustang, the outcome of the accident could have been very different.
Dwelley credits his father for finding him by tracing his location, with the help of AT&T, via the cell phone he had been carrying.
He was not drinking. He was not texting. He was out for a drive before heading to a school football game. He readily accepts responsibility for driving too fast on Gibraltar Road that night in early August.
“I’m lucky to be alive,” Dwelley said. “I was just driving, feeling overconfident. It was a stupid mistake, I was being a cocky teenager.”
Dwelley sustained some brain damage that required surgeons to remove a section of his skull and replace it with a titanium implant. Unbelievably, he did not break any bones. As for lessons learned, “It taught me a lot about being safe. ... Cars need to be taken seriously.”
He was interviewed Tuesday by DP News, which is expected to broadcast the interview Thursday morning, to tell his story and promote safe driving. Dwelley wanted others to learn from his mistake and felt that having students see the vehicle could drive the point home.
On Wednesday morning, Thomas Towing, owned by a family that is part of the Dos Pueblos High School community, towed the smashed Mustang to campus, free of charge, to be on display for three days as a very visual reminder of what can go wrong. Stunned teens gathered around the vehicle, amazed that anyone could have survived the crash. The company that made the roll bar has since sent a representative to photograph the vehicle, a testament to how it saved someone’s life.
As for his next car? Dwelley is thinking about a nice Toyota with plenty of air bags.
— Barbara Keyani is the administrative services and communications coordinator for the Santa Barbara Unified School District.