On Tuesday, Zoe Ordway and Alex Figueroa embraced next to Zoe’s crumpled Ford Fiesta, a much different scene than the last time the two saw each other.
On Aug. 12, 2019, Ordway, then a junior at West Forsyth High School, was seriously injured in a wreck on her way to cross country practice at the school as she made a left turn from Bentley Road onto Post Road, resulting in multiple broken bones and requiring surgery. Figueroa was the first driver to stop to check on her after the accident, which has since prompted members of the community and elected officials to get involved with making the road safer for drivers and pedestrians.
A small ceremony was held on Tuesday near Post and Pittman roads to commemorate the first anniversary of the crash and to celebrate a new traffic signal being installed at the intersection.
“It’s honestly pretty indescribable,” Zoe said. “If you would have told me this time last year that I would be standing in front of that today, I would have told you you were crazy. I want to make sure that this is clear, this is not just me, this was our whole community pushing for something to get done, and knowing that a group of people can get together and make that change is amazing. Knowing that the state heard and did something about it is even more incredible.”
In the aftermath of the accident, the community rallied around Zoe, including getting a GoFundMe started to help with medical bills, and pushing for new safety measures on the road.
Last year, Zoe was one of several speakers at a community town hall meeting to discuss safety issues on Post Road held by state Sen. Greg Dolezal and other elected officials.
“Anytime you have a community that speaks up with one voice about one issue, it gets the attention of people,” Dolezal said on Tuesday, “and for me, the first time I walked in the hospital and saw Zoe laying there in the bed with her bones crushed but her spirits so alive and strong, I said, ‘We really need to do something about this.’”
A lot has changed on Post Road since Zoe’s accident.
In March, commissioners approved funding for a new traffic signal at the Post and Pittman intersection, and during Tuesday’s ceremony, crews worked to get the intersection ready for the lights, which have already been installed, to begin being used.
“It’s really, really cool to see how my accident has been able to help other people, hopefully in the future,” Zoe.
Since the accident, Post Road has also moved from being part of the state’s system to a Forsyth County Road, with members of the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners recently agreeing to officially take over the road.
Dolezal said though ownership of the road was changing, the state’s plan to pay for a widening project was not.
“The commitment from the state is still strong,” he said. “In fact, I was in Lt. Gov. [Geoff] Duncan’s office last week meeting with GDOT, and the state is still committed to funding the widening of the road. Believe it or not, the road is six miles long. It’s going to cost about $121 million to widen the six-mile road, but that’s ultimately the fix, and really Zoe’s story was a catalyst to be able to change some of the pacing on what we are doing.”
Tuesday was also a chance for Zoe’s friends, teammates and family, many of whom were wearing #ZoeStrong shirts, to celebrate how far she had made it in the last year.
“I pass that intersection every day,” Zoe said. “There is not one day that we don’t take a right. I don’t take lefts. I don’t let anyone take me on a left there. I remember people like Alex who were there with me that morning, who were kind enough to stop, who were kind enough to call the police for me.
“I think of how scared I was because that accident was a lot. I’m still having trouble with a lot of it today. I’m learning to deal with it, but just the sound of everything, the pain I had to go through to get back to where I am now, pretty much just everything about that morning.”
Zoe’s parents, Tricia and Scott, said they were thankful for Figueroa's response and how much support the community had shown them over the last year.
“Alex actually came when Zoe was hit and held her hand and calmed her down before they were able to get her sorted out, and we just can’t thank him enough,” Tricia said. “Just the fact that she had someone there with her so she could get the help, we can [never thank him enough].”
Figueroa said Tuesday was the first time he and Zoe had seen each other since the accident.
“I saw the accident and saw the impact, my initial reaction was to just get out and help,” he recalled.
Zoe said there are some days that are better and some that are worse when dealing with pain and issues from the crash, but with her final year of high school approaching, she is making progress.
“I am back running, so that’s a really big accomplishment. [I] really missed it,” she said, “so I’m looking forward to making my senior year be the best that it can.”