One night in 2009, Piscataway resident Gabe Hurley went driving in search of a 24-hour pharmacy where he could buy some toothpaste for a trip to Las Vegas. On his way home, at around 11 p.m., he was driving under an underpass in Edison when a teenage driver crashed into the bridge at about 60 or 70 miles per hour, sending metal flying in all directions. A 10-pound air conditioning compressor smashed through Hurley’s windshield directly into his face.
Hurley woke up in the hospital a week later remembering nothing of the crash. “I lost both of my eyes, and my face split open,” he says. “If you look at a CAT scan, you will notice every bone in the middle of my face was sawdust. That’s the level of trauma as the surgeon described it. The fact that I live, and am even able to speak, is a miracle.”
The driver who caused the accident was part of a group of 10 teenagers in four cars. Hurley says the Edison police could never prove distracted driving, but that with so many adolescents together out for a late-night drive, it was inevitable.
Hurley’s crash left him blind, disabled, and with $1 million in medical bills. In 2009 he had recently graduated from college and was doing tech support at Virgin Mobile headquarters in Warren. He had planned to go back to school to earn a master’s degree in forensics.
The collision changed Hurley’s life but did not destroy it. Today he travels around the state giving presentations to high school students about driving safely. He tells the story of what happens to him, wrenching details included, but ends his talks on a positive note by showing off his guitar skills, which have fully returned. “I can shred like Van Halen, so I do a guitar medley at the end of the presentation,” he says. Hurley has rejoined the band he played with in his former life. Currently he is focused on his music and raising awareness of distracted driving.
He tells the students that each one of them “has the power to stop this from happening” by driving safely. Even as a passenger, a sensible person can speak up and be the voice of reason that stops a tragedy in the making. Hurley wishes someone like that had been there on the night he was injured. “Maybe the driver of that first car was a jerk and didn’t care,” he says. “Still, there were other kids in that car who could have intervened and done something.”