EAST COUNTY — Just west of Rye Road, tucked away on State Road 64 behind a billboard for the Twin Rivers community, Debbie Wagner and Gena Rogers clutch trophies students Braden River High School students earned.
The women struggle to hold back tears, as they sit on concrete benches in front of a memorial to their sons — Brett Daniel Wagner and Joshua Jerome Rogers, best friends who died as a result of a 2011 Christmas Day car accident, which happened just down the road.
|Josh, who died Dec. 25, was ejected from the truck he was driving, after another vehicle pulled out from a stop sign and into its path. Brett, who was ejected from the vehicle from the back seat, died two days later. They both were 18 years old.
Although both teenagers attended Lakewood Ranch High School, their story is one that resonated with students throughout the community — even rival schools.
And, their story is one that will continue to impact lives.
Since the boys’ deaths, Debbie Wagner and Gena Rogers have formed Team B.U.B.B.A. (Buckle Up 4 Swag & Bubba Association) to promote driving safety and encourage individuals of all ages to wear seat belts — something that, if done, may have saved their children’s lives.
A Braden River High School Technology Student Association digital video-production team took that same message to heart and shared it on a national level June 28 through July 2, while competing in the National TSA Championships, in Orlando. The 12-minute film about Josh and Brett’s lives and deaths — and the importance of wearing seat belts — earned third place in the national competition.
At Josh and Brett’s memorial site July 5, Braden River’s digital video-production team — Danni Goldman, Mario Palmer and Emily Malcom — gave their TSA national third-place and state first-place trophies to the boys’ mothers.
“The theme for the (video competition) was following the rules,” Goldman said. “Watching how hard (this loss was on the families made me want to do this). We wanted to make sure no other mom or family member ever has to feel that loss.
“It really hit home,” she said. “It could (have been) your brother or your best friend. It makes you realize how precious life is.”
Palmer, the video’s producer, agreed.
“It’s something everyone can relate to,” he said. “Everyone rides in a car.”
Debbie Wagner and Gena Rogers, who watched the film for the first time over the weekend, already have posted the video to their organization’s website, bubbasaveslives.org.
“These are kids who share the same things; this (tragedy) could have happened to any single one of them, and they know it,” Debbie Wagner said of how students have rallied behind the cause and to support Josh’s and Brett’s families after the accident. “This isn’t a teenage problem. This is an everybody problem. There are people out there who don’t wear their seat belts.”
Two other students from Braden River High also paid tribute to Josh’s and Brett’s lives July 5 by installing a sign in their honor at the memorial site, just before Debbie Wagner and Gena Rogers arrived.
“A lot of people at Braden River were affected by (their deaths),” said Taylor Wallace, who constructed the sign with fellow student Wagner Santos. “Everyone knew them. We could put (the sign) here, and (help people) remember them.”
Contact Pam Eubanks at [email protected].
View the video at Bubbasaveslives.org.