By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
One bad decision changed and is changing lives
McKenzie Crowe speaks to campers at the FFA/FCCAL Camp this summer.

The hundreds of teens gathered outside on a hot and muggy night weren’t checking their phones. They didn’t talk over each other to the next group of friends. They weren’t talking at all. They weren’t squirming, eager to leave. Their hands weren’t swiping their faces to shoo away bugs. No, they were swatting away tears.

Tears fell, spurred by someone their own age. Tears also fell from the face of the person they gathered to hear during reflection, or quiet, time during weeklong summer camps at the FFA/FCCLA Center.

McKenzie Crowe spoke to six groups of campers throughout the six weeks of camp, reaching 3,349 teens. There were hundreds of campers to hear her each week, and each appearance brought tears to listeners’ eyes.

Some campers lined up after the talks to give her an embrace, a token they cherished or to share their own story.
Crowe made it clear to the campers that her tears weren’t about how unfair things were for her. They were about how a choice that she made that was so bad and unfair to so many others.

It is the lesson she learned that has put Crowe on mission to use the tragedy of the lives she shattered to change other lives for the better. Crowe has spoken to several groups of teenagers and children at camps, schools and churches. She was also invited to speak to the University of Georgia football team this season. Her next talk will be to the Joe Giddens Youth Mission event “Your Choices Matter” at the First Baptist Church of Conyers, 2100, Hwy. 138 on Saturday, Aug. 20 at 6:30 p.m.

In January of 2012, Crowe chose to get behind the wheel of her truck after drinking alcohol. While driving down Cook Road, she crossed the center line and smashed, head-on, into a vehicle driven by Allison Campbell. Only 17 at the time, Crowe’s choice to drink and drive led to Campbell’s death.

Sentenced to 15 years in jail by Judge Eugene Benton in November of 2013, Crowe served three years in prison and will spend the next 12 years speaking to other teens about her actions and the cost to Campbell and her loved ones. Though she had been ordered to speak to teens following her release as part of her sentence, she had already begun telling the story while in prison.

For three years, Crowe shared prison cells with other criminals and lived the harsh life of a prisoner. She didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to her mother, who died while she was in prison, and she goes to bed every day knowing a mother and wife had been ripped away from the Campbell family because of her bad decisions. She has shared those experiences, not to earn sympathy that she says she doesn’t deserve, but to prevent others from making the same tragic mistakes.

“I caused something terrible to happen because I made a terrible choice,” Crowe told The News. ”It had tragic consequences, so that by [speaking to others], I feel like it gives back and kind of makes her death not all for nothing.

“Maybe if I could save lives because of it, people who could have hurt somebody else maybe wouldn’t,” she said.

When she was first incarcerated, her father, Matt, asked her if she was willing to share her story through Facebook in the hopes of making a difference in someone else’s life. The answer led to a path that now has her speaking three or four times a month.

“When I talked with her about if she wanted to stay under the radar or if she wanted to tell her story as she went along in hopes of inspiring people and saving lives,” Matt Crowe said “she said ‘Dad, I want to save lives.’”

Her first talk was given March 6, 2014 as part of the Choices program started by Jackson County Sheriff Janis Mangum.

Crowe stepped in front of a group of prisoners not knowing what to expect. With a ball in her stomach and nerves clenched tight, she told those gathered she felt she had disappointed her parents and that when she looked at herself in the mirror, she saw a “monster,” a “murderer.”

Crowe continued through prison for two years and two months, living life without choices because of a terrible choice made earlier. As she told the FFA campers, while in jail she got to see her family for 30 minutes three times a week.

Members of the FFA audience began to tear up as Crowe told of the first contact visit she had with her father.

“I knew something was bad when my dad had his head in his hands,” Crowe said. “He said ‘Your mom passed out at work. We’ll try to get you to see her but you’ll probably have to say goodbye’. My goodbye was when she was in a coma.
“She was dying and I wasn’t there because of a decision I made,” she said.

Crowe’s talks to teens, prisoners, church groups and others about what she went through in prison, but ultimately, she is guided to stop her audience from a choice that words won’t fix, a choice that can affect others.

“I never got the chance to apologize to the woman; she passed away on scene,” Crowe said while talking to the FFA campers. “It all changed because I made one choice. All of a sudden I was a murderer. I felt like a monster.”

She tells her story without mentioning the words “Allison Campbell” but says it’s not out of disrespect m but rather shame.

“It wasn’t just some woman,” she told the campers. “And don’t think I don’t remember her name. I’ll never forget it. I don’t feel worthy of saying her name. I had a couple of beers. Is it worth it? I took a thousand people in that life.”

Her father says his life is also influenced by Campbell and the tragedy that came from his daughter’s decision.

“There’s never a day that goes by that [the Campbell family is] not in our thoughts and prayers,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons [McKenzie] started speaking. People need to know a choice does not just affect one person. I talk about how it affected me, how it affected the other family and the community. At the time, it tore this community a part.”

Lines of teens gathered to speak to Crowe after her talks at the FFA camp, expressing their appreciation for her message and the tragedy she caused from a bad decision. It may be hard to estimate how many lives have been saved because Crowe has shared her story, but Matt Crowe said he knows of at least one life saved.

A friend had a daughter who was going through a tough time with drugs and alcohol and told the Crowes about it.

“We talked with her one-on-one,” Matt Crowe said. “I then saw her a week or so ago, and I thought she would say she was still doing drugs and drinking, but she said ‘I quit the drugs and the drinking.’

“You get a lot of people who lost parents and you get a lot of people who had family members in prison, who can relate will come up and hug her,” she said.

During the final night of Crowe’s talks during the FFA camp’s reflection time, one teenage boy came up to her as others were filing out. Through tears he told her that his father was in prison for vehicular homicide, and said he always wore a bracelet for luck. He took off the bracelet and gave it to Crowe. The two then embraced.

“They all sit there and they listen, and they’re genuine,” Crowe said of the crowds that hear her speak. “And that’s awesome to see how great people can be.

“I know you have great things ahead of you,” she told FFA campers. “I had great things ahead of me. I want you to tell me that I made this choice, this bad mistake, for you.”