Sobering sight at fair

MONROE — Crowds of people bustle through the Evergreen State Fairgrounds, but they fall silent at the mangled, crumpled Chevrolet Cavalier.

Children can be heard from far away, enjoying carnival games. The smell of food permeates the air. People crisscross the fairgrounds, smiling, chatting, licking ice cream and eating corn on the cob.

Once they get to the red car, surrounded by yellow crime scene tape, everybody quiets down. A panel with a girl’s photo stands nearby. Hannah Zylstra, 16, died in the car two days before Christmas last year. She drank alcohol at a friend’s party, drove fast on Woods Creek Road near Monroe and collided with a sport utility vehicle. Her younger sister Emily, 15, who was a passenger, survived.

People dropped by the display on Monday, set up by the Snohomish County DUI Task Force. They stopped smiling. They stared at Hannah’s pictures. The display showed how fun and danger exist together, and how a single choice can turn life into death.

What happened to Hannah could happen to anyone, said her parents, Christine and Fred Zylstra. The Snohomish couple hope people learn from their daughter’s mistake.

“We wanted to use it to do good for other people,” Fred Zylstra said.

Hannah wanted to go to the University of Wisconsin to become an agricultural science teacher, the Zylstras said. Hannah was active in 4-H and Future Farmers of America. She loved the fair, where she showed her cows. Hannah would also visit the DUI Task Force’s display at the fair, her mother said.

“She was a great young lady who made a terrible choice and paid an ultimate price,” Christine Zylstra said.

The Zylstras held back tears as they talked about Hannah, one of their 11 children. Eight months have passed since the accident. They are still grieving.

That their daughter drank and drove added another dimension to the family’s grief, Christine and Fred Zylstra said. The couple turned to their Christian faith and decided to turn the tragedy into an opportunity to help others.

“We knew there will be healing in that,” Zylstra said.

People paid attention to Hannah’s crash display Monday afternoon. The display is expected to stay through the fair’s last day, Monday. Shantelle Pitts of Marysville fixed her eyes on the display for a moment.

“It is sad. It is very heartbreaking,” Pitts said.

Seeing is believing, the mother of three children said.

“I think this is the most effective way to show my kids what could happen to them,” Pitts said.

The display included writings from Hannah’s sister Emily, who lost three teeth and sight in her right eye, her parents said. The crash also broke her right leg. She still suffers from nerve damage in the leg and may not fully recover.

Still, Emily is glad for three things, she wrote down on the display: “1. I know the consequences of drinking. 2. Hannah is in the best place she can be. 3. I can now fulfill the reason I am here: to help save people’s lives.”

Don’t drink and drive, Emily wrote. At the end of her message, she urged anyone to ask a question:

“Do I want to kill myself or someone else? Think about it!”

Reporter Yoshiaki Nohara: 425-339-3029 or ynohara@heraldnet.com.

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