How do I begin the story of Andrea Bailes? That’s the question I have wrestled with for weeks. Every time I sit down to write about her, I see the smiling face of a girl all too eager to speak; a girl whose mission in life was to spread laughter and joy to everyone she met. Though she is gone from this earth, she is still spreading joy and awareness through the legacy of her life.
Andrea had a heart for serving others. She was always ready to help anyone in need. She cared about the happiness of those around her and looked for opportunities to make a difference in the lives of her family, friends, and even strangers. She had wanted to grow up to be a nurse or a veterinarian because she also had a great love for animals. Though some may find it unusual to share ice cream with a dog, Andrea found it quite normal and that was just one of the ways she treated the ones she loved so dear.
Though Andrea had no way of knowing that her time on Earth would be cut short, she lived her life as if she was soaking up every last moment and trying not to waste what she was given. Her birthday (July 29) was not just a piece of cake and some candles. It was a huge party extravaganza planned by Andrea herself and it would last an entire week so as not to leave out anyone that was willing to commemorate another year on this planet with her. The parties were not about Andrea being the center of attention. For her, it was about finding an excuse to make memories with the special people in her life.
I asked her mother, Deana Nibert Spaulding of Point Pleasant, to tell me about the car crash that took her life. She briefly told me that on November 18, 2011, Andrea and her best friend, Sami Sheets, went to the movies escorted by her friend’s father, Paul Sheets. On the way home, Paul’s car was struck head on by a drunk driver. The impact caused major injuries to Sami and Paul. Unfortunately, it took Andrea’s life.
“But,” added her mother, “I really want to tell you about the days leading up to it.”
Andrea was a talented gymnast and spent many hours practicing for competitions. The Saturday before the crash, Andrea’s mother, Deana, was scheduled to help with a birthday party at the gym where Andrea practiced. After the party, Andrea begged her mother to allow her friends to come over while Deana cleaned up from the festivities. Andrea was supposed to have gone to the movies that day, but the plans fell through for her. Instead, seven little girls jumped, laughed, danced and had the time of their lives that evening. On Wednesday, Andrea made another request to her mother. This one was quite unusual. She asked to stay home from practice that evening because she was exhausted. This was odd due to the fact that Andrea rarely missed practices and attended them five days a week. Her mother agreed. However, she didn’t rest. Instead, Andrea made a visit to her great-grandparents and spent the evening beside her papaw’s bed. Upon leaving, she made a point to kiss her great-grandmother goodbye and tell her that she loved her and insisted that she, “Tell papaw I love him too.” Thursday came and Andrea made one final request to her mother. She asked her mom if she could give one of the leotards she had outgrown to her “twin”. She was referring to an eight year old teammate named Taylor that was similar in every way to Andrea. Though this was Deana’s favorite leotard and she wanted to keep it to remember Andrea’s years in gymnastics, she gave in and allowed her to gift it to Taylor. That evening as Andrea proudly handed her little friend the leotard, she said, “I am giving you wings” and pointed to the angel’s wings that graced the back of the shiny white bodysuit. I can’t imagine how priceless that simple piece of clothing must be to her special friend today.
After the crash Deana tried to make sense of what happened to her daughter. She knew that the man that hit them was drunk. She knew that he had also died in the crash. What she didn’t know until much later was that he had nine DUI offenses on his record. The questions flew at her fast. Why was he allowed to continue this behavior? Why wasn’t he in jail? How was she supposed to live with what he did to her daughter? Researching West Virginia’s DUI laws, she could find no provisions that would have prevented this from happening. She took the initiative and began emailing politicians that she felt might give her some kind of assistance in understanding this tragedy. Though many responded quickly with their sympathy, no one had answers except Delegate Brian Savilla. Delegate Savilla expressed his sincere apologies for what happened and told her that he had been working on a bill to address this issue. “Andrea’s Law” aimed to enforce stricter laws for repeat DUI offenders, was introduced in the 2012 session. Unfortunately, it didn’t receive enough votes for passage. However, Delegate Jim Butler took on the task of reintroducing this bill during the 2013 session.
Upon speaking with Deana, I can tell you that the community’s loving response to her family has helped tremendously in dealing with the loss of Andrea. Volunteering time at assemblies against drinking and driving, praying for her and her sons, sharing stories about Andrea and spreading the word about “Andrea’s Law” have all been ways in which they have helped. Their continuing support is amazing and she appreciates everything that has been done.
If you would like to help also, there are upcoming events that you can choose to assist or attend to show your support. At 8:30 a.m. on Nov. 16-17, the first “Andrea Bailes Gymnastics Invitational” will be held in Athens, Ohio at the community center and hosted by Andrea’s gym, Southern Ohio Gymnastics Academy. There are about 250 gymnasts expected to compete and is a great number for the first year of this meet. In December of 2013, the Second Annual “Andrea Bailes Indoor Tournament” will take place. West Virginia teams from Ripley and Point Pleasant and Ohio teams from Gallipolis and Athens are expected. Both of these events will have booths displayed to inform others about the dangers of drinking and driving. Also, Andrea’s law still needs support. Write your representatives, make phone calls, and talk to others about this bill. You can visit this link to check out the status of this bill: http://www.legis.state.wv.us/bill_status/bills_history.cfm?year=2013&sessiontype=rs&btype=bill
In 2016 which was Andrea’s anticipated graduation year, the “Andrea Bailes Honorary Scholarship” will be given out to one of her classmates. It’s expected to be a bittersweet moment for everyone involved. It is my sincere hope that the person that receives the scholarship understands what a special girl Andrea was. Her shine never stopped the day she passed from this Earth. It just got brighter.