Family to walk from Arizona to Flathead with ashes and a message for teens
The Daily Inter Lake
Barry Adkins plans to walk 1,450 miles through deserts and mountain passes next spring and summer to bring his son's ashes from Arizona to Montana, the place Kevin loved best.
Kevin grew up in Gilbert, Ariz., but came to love the Flathead Valley during frequent family visits here with his uncle R.T. Adkins and cousins Shawn Smith and Trevert Adkins.
"I grew up here," Barry Adkins said. "I graduated from Flathead High School in 1976 and left in 1979."
Kevin, a cowboy by nature, participated in FFA and competed in rodeos. He dreamed of owning his own ranch until alcohol poisoning ended his life at just 18 years old.
"He always wanted to move here some day," said Bev Adkins, Kevin's stepmother.
His wish comes true next spring and summer when his father, step mother and sisters, Cassandra, 23, and Sarah, 21, undertake "Kevin's Last Walk" with his ashes. They will finish here on July 10, the day in 2005 that Kevin died.
DETERMINED TO make his son's death more than a statistic, Barry Adkins plans to speak and reach out to teenagers at schools and through media outlets at stops along his walk just as he has for the last year.
By sharing his family's pain, Adkins hopes to spare others from the tragedy spawned by the deadly mix of teenagers and alcohol. He works with the organization "notMYkid."
"I speak through them," he said. "I probably have told the story to 2,500 people."
Multiple retellings does little to relieve the grief and abysmal loss. Tears well up in Bev's eyes as Barry Adkins recalls the ring of the doorbell that Sunday morning.
It was the Gilbert police. Adkins figured they were pursuing a parking issue or some such trivial issue.
"They looked at Bev the whole time," he said. "They said 'Your son is dead.'"
Bev, who has sons from a previous marriage, asked which one. The officers handed over Kevin's driver's license.
Adkins describes the experience as part of himself dying that morning. He said telling Kevin's sisters was the most difficult thing he had to do.
"They were very close (to Kevin)," he said.
They recalled shock, followed by numbness then unending days of darkness. It seemed impossible to believe.
ANXIOUS FOR his independence, Kevin had begun moving out of their house into his own apartment just the day before. As his son left Saturday night, Adkins recalled hugging him, telling him he loved him and to be careful.
Like most teenagers, Kevin thought tragedy happened only to other people.
"Kevin thought he was 10 feet tall and bullet-proof," Adkins said.
The evening began as a party with about 20 people. Kevin and his friends started drinking beer, then got into binge drinking of harder stuff.
"He drank six double-shots of Jack Daniels," Adkins said. "His blood alcohol was 0.36."
While 0.36 equates to very drunk, Adkins said the toxicity of alcohol depends on the person as well as other factors. He has learned since that very sweet drinks create a double whammy by shooting up blood sugar.
"The Phoenix coroner said he has seen 0.25 blood alcohol kill," he said.
Kevin's friends weren't concerned when he passed out. As a practical joke, they shaved his head and legs before carefully placing him in bed on his side so he wouldn't choke if he vomited.
When his friends checked on him again, they discovered Kevin wasn't breathing. They called for help but it was too late. At 18, Kevin was pronounced dead on his first day out on his own.
His heartbroken parents searched for clues they might have missed. Adkins said they suspected he had tried alcohol before, but Bev added that Kevin never smelled like booze.
While living at home, he never had any trouble with the law or at school. Adkins said that the high-school principal didn't even know who he was.
As he points out to his teenage audiences, Adkins said it only takes going too far one time. Kevin's last act was to leave a voice mail for his sister at 2:30 a.m.
He told his sister how much he loved his nephew, how many shots he had downed and how much fun he was having. About an hour later, the party ended permanently for Kevin.
Through that voice mail played at Adkins' presentations, Kevin continues to make a difference in the lives of young people who get the message.
"It was all in fun, except someone died," Adkins said.
FROM THE day of Kevin's memorial service, his father was determined to make something good come from his son's death. He set up the Web site www.somethingverygood.com as a place for people to record good things they do or what they changed about themselves as a tribute to Kevin.
The idea to bring his son's remains to Montana came from Kevin's favorite movie, "Lonesome Dove."
In the film, two former Texas Rangers move cattle to Montana. Before dying, one of the Rangers asks his friend to take his remains back to Texas, where he was happiest.
In the case of Kevin, Montana was the place he was happiest. So his family created "Kevin's Last Walk" as a tribute and a mission to save lives.
Adkins and his wife arrived in Kalispell last week after scouting out their 1,450-mile route from Gilbert. They plan to launch their walk near Kevin's Feb. 26 birthday and walk about 15 to 20 miles a day, five days a week.
People who would like to support their mission should contact Ryan Helton, coordinator of "Kevin's Last Walk," at (602) 652-0163 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Adkins, an application engineer, will take more than four months off his job to make the trip, as will Kevin's sisters, who work as medical assistants. They plan to trade off walking while Bev drives the support vehicle.
Adkins' employer will keep him on the payroll, but Cassandra and Sarah may sacrifice their jobs to help spread the message across 1,450 miles about underage drinking to teenagers and their parents.
"We're going to hit as many schools as we can," Adkins said
He said research shows that people who wait until 21 to drink have much lower rates of addiction and involvement in tragedies like the one that afflicted their family.
At the end of the trail, the family intends to fulfill Kevin's cowboy dream of coming home to Montana by spreading his ashes. They don't know exactly how they will mark their arrival in Kalispell on July 10, the two-year anniversary of Kevin's death.
"We're still trying to wrap our arms around that one," Adkins said.
Reporter Candace Chase may be reached at 758-4436 or by e-mail at email@example.com