By Christopher Smith
When Tamara Tankersley watched her brother airlifted from his motorcycle wreck on Sept. 22, she “never felt so much fear in (her) life,” she said.
Benjamin Daniel, 18, was taken to the intensive care unit at Erlanger Medical Center in Chattanooga after driving head-on into a Toyota 4-Runner on Maple Grove Road. He almost died at the scene, said Georgia State Patrol officials.
But Daniel survived and is now undergoing at least a year of recovery, including physical therapy at the BenchMark clinic in Chattanooga and reconstructive surgery on his face at Erlanger.
That’s OK, said Landon Norris, a sophomore at Northwest Whitfield High School where both Tankersley, 19, and Daniel graduated.
“This accident made him feel like God blessed him in a huge way,” Norris said.
Blessed because of the support Northwest Whitfield students have shown the family, said Dale Brewer, associate pastor at the Church of God of the Union Assembly in Dalton.
“We — me and several students from the school who attend our youth group — talked to (Principal) Britt Adams about the idea of a bake sale to raise money for Ben at the final Bruins football home game (on Friday, Nov. 9),” Brewer said. “They were able to raise nearly $600 that night, which went to help the family pay for their constant trips to Chattanooga. The family has a long road ahead — it is almost insurmountable — but we’re there for them.”
The fundraising was “amazing,” said Kim Akins, a parent of a student who attended the game.
“They continuously came on the loud speaker and told the audience about the accident,” she said. “At half-time, the amount of money being handed out was amazing. We filled up a plastic bag in one little section of the stadium. People were gracious to give, grateful to give.”
Raising funds isn’t the only thing Northwest Whitfield students have done for Daniel.
“Just recently, Benjamin came home,” Tankersley said. “Some remodeling had to be done on the basement level to help him. He was stuck down there and students from the (Future Farmers of America group) — where Benjamin was active — built him a ramp to the first floor.”
A much-needed ramp, said Judy Daniel, Benjamin’s mother.
“It has been such a blessing,” she said. “I cannot thank them enough for everything they have done. All the prayers and the support from the community is amazing.”
“Now, Ben can get out of the basement and be part of the family again,” she said. “It’s a huge deal to have him up there. It’s been hard enough as it is without him stuck in the basement.”
Holly Akins, a junior at Northwest Whitfield and Kim Akins’ daughter, remembers when Daniel played for the Bruins in the 2010-2011 year.
“Every time he went out on the field, he loved it,” she said. “On the sidelines, he was hilarious. He would cut up with the guys, the coaches loved him, and they all ask about him every day. He’s become our Bruins Bear now and we’ll continue to help him with what he needs.”
Tankersley said the biggest need for Daniel is transportation.
“We have to stretch him into our GMC Envoy,” she said. “He is a very big guy. He can’t bend his legs. It’s very uncomfortable for him.”
Uncomfortable and possibly dangerous.
“For his mother and sister to shove and tug ... him into the car, there’s possibility of making a wound worse,” Brewer added. “He’s three times the size of a normal kid — a giant. They really need a van with a wheelchair lift that can hold around 400-500 pounds. Even though there are difficulties like that, his mother is always saying, ‘I would rather have Benjamin a little broken rather than no Benjamin at all.’”
Asking for donations is not the main purpose of telling Daniel’s story, Brewer added.
“What we want is for people — especially the Northwest Whitfield extended family — to know that the Daniel family appreciates what they’ve done,” he said. “There is no depth to their appreciation. If people want to help we could use it, but regardless of what happens we’ll get Ben through this accident.”
Tankersley says the family can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.