Turning grief into goodwill
After losing a loved one in a car accident, family focuses on making crash site safer
Dealing with the loss of a child can be an unimaginable challenge, but for Debi and Jason Hammel, that loss has been tempered a little thanks to their children and a project to make the road where her daughter died safer.
Lorissa Green died on Jan. 16 after an accident at Highway 195 and Cheney-Spokane Road. Her family has been channeling their grief into something positive – hopefully saving other lives in that area. Debi Hammel will testify when a new bill is introduced to the state legislature March 16 to make the corridor between Interstate 90 and Hatch Road on the highway safer.
Lorissa was a 16-year-old girl who loved to be the center of attention. She loved snowboarding and just learned to kneeboard last summer.
She and her sister, Lexi Green, 17, carried on a typical sibling rivalry – if Lexi reached a milestone, Lorissa was sure to follow quickly and then the other way around. The two would rib each other about their accomplishments.
Her sister Kayla Green, 18, drove Lorissa to get her driver’s license last year. Debi didn’t know it at the time, but Lorissa signed up to be an organ donor.
“She helped save a lot of lives,” her mother said.
After Lorissa got her license, she would drive her siblings, Hanne Hammel, 8, to Betz Elementary and Shane Hammel, 11, to Cheney Middle School most mornings.
She was outspoken and said what was on her mind, sometimes getting her into trouble with her parents.
“She was always grounded,” Lexi said about her sister. Usually, it was for sassing her parents. Debi said that when her children are grounded, they get to become her best friend – with no cell phone or car, they have to spend time with her.
“We enjoy being Mom’s best friend,” Lexi said.
Her sister Kayla said that Lorissa used to get up at 5 or 5:30 a.m. every day to do her hair and make-up. Kayla said Lorissa would justify getting up so early because she would watch a movie while she got ready.
She had a knack for self-portraiture. After her death, her mother found several pictures Lorissa had taken of herself. Debi had one of them blown up and hung it on the wall with the other family photos.
Debi said the deal is that when her children get their senior pictures taken she will hang one on the wall next to all the family pictures. Lexi’s senior picture had only been on the wall a few weeks before it was moved to make room for Lorissa’s.
Lorissa always complained about her job at the Giggling Guest Too day care center at 4120 S. Cheney-Spokane Road, but she never did quit. Her mom told her she could quit if she wanted, but she never did. Kayla said her sister had talked about getting other jobs in the area, like a pizza place or movie rental place.
“When things got down and dirty, she was pretty much there,” Debi said. She added Lorissa loved working with special needs children at the center.
Lorissa’s death changed everything for her family.
“I don’t have a choice but to get out of bed every morning,” Debi said. She explained that running a large family that includes Kayla, Lexi, Shane and Hanne, and also A.J. Hammel, 3, and Emily Hammel, 4. Debi and Jason also have three other children that live outside of the home, Colton, 15, Madison, 13 and Thandan, 18.
“I’m a firm believer that things happen for a reason,” she said. She may not know what the reasons are, but she hopes to find out one day.
She said that working to make Highway 195 safer has been good for her. She’s been standing outside of grocery stores to get enough signatures to introduce the bill to the legislature, and has been working with Reps. John Driscoll and Kevin Parker and meeting with community members to discuss solutions.
“I don’t ever want anybody to go through what we just went through,” Debi said.
The family’s experience at the hospital has inspired Kayla, a student at Eastern Washington University, to study nursing. Lexi had already planned on becoming a neonatal intensive care nurse, but the nurses at Sacred Heart Medical Center affected the family in a positive way.
“We met some really awesome people at Sacred Heart,” Debi said. Lexi and Kayla said some of the nurses brought them up to the roof of the hospital to look at the city from there in the middle of the night.
“There was a male nurse there who didn’t leave Lorissa’s side the whole time she was there,” Lexi said.
It also wasn’t just the nurses that have reached out to Lorissa’s family. Her friends from Cheney High School and friends of the family held an impromptu vigil shortly after her accident at the day care center where Lorissa worked. About 100 people came to remember their friend, grieve and place candles at the site of the accident, which isn’t too far away from the day care center.
“There’s a cross right on that median sign,” Debi said. She doesn’t know who placed it at the site.
One of the students at the high school made T-shirts in Lorissa’s memory and the Pizza Hut in Cheney held a fundraiser for the family. The event raised over $800 and customers were patiently waiting two hours for pizzas or four hours for delivery that night.
Someone at the high school also held a teddy bear drive for the younger children of the family. Hanne proudly shows off her teddy bear and keeps it in a special place.
Lexi, a senior at Cheney High School, should have been having the best year of her life. Along with the loss of her sister, she and Kayla are also mourning their father, Philip Green, who died in August.
Lexi was selected as a Lilac Princess earlier this month, even though she thought about quitting the competition after Lorissa’s accident.
“I thought about it and thought about it a lot,” she said. But ultimately, Lorissa helped her make up her mind.
“She pretty much would have kicked my butt,” Lexi said. “You can’t give up on something this big.”
Contact staff writer Lisa Leinberger at 459-5449 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.