After October accident, GJ grad lucky to be alive, holding diploma

Ben Garner is happy to by walking with his senior class at the GJHS graduation. He was hit by a drunk driver while riding his bicycle in October and not expected to live let alone graduate.

Receiving a high school diploma by age 21 would have been just fine with Ben Garner. He started his senior year at Grand Junction High School with no immediate plan to graduate.

Not long after, he was struck by a vehicle while riding his bicycle sometime after midnight on his way home after a party.

The collision in October last year cost Garner 16 days in St. Mary’s Hospital, most of which he doesn’t remember. His yearbook photo shows him cocooned in a web of tubes and wires in a hospital bed.

By rights, the collision should have cost him any chance at graduating, let alone by age 21.

Ben Garner, though, walked with his class Tuesday morning and got his diploma during commencement ceremonies at Stocker Stadium.

He’s 17.

“They told me that I wasn’t going to make it,” Garner said Monday. “Look where I’m at. I walk tomorrow.”

And he did.

There are several reasons for his turnaround, not least of them a Grand Junction High School program aimed at getting students through high school instead of dropping out.

There also is Garner himself.

Working with teacher Brent Welch and the Nova NET program at the high school, Garner tackled three required subjects and within a semester completed a year’s worth of work in algebra and physical science. Using Nova NET, students log onto subjects and take them by computer. They take notes and can print out lessons and work with Welch.

For Ben, the son of Patrick and Patricia Garner, Nova NET was the ticket to graduation, said his mother.

“Nova NET is a great resource for kids like him” who have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, she said. “He can work at his own pace and feels like he is working at something rather than being lectured to.”

Garner’s pace could be quick indeed. He took and passed physical science, showing up for lessons in 11 consecutive days, packing the class into 19 hours.

“I blew through it in twice the normal speed,” he said.

Not bad for a guy who suffered a traumatic brain injury in a collision he can’t remember. To be sure, he said, his amnesia isn’t solely attributable to the violence of being struck. A blood-alcohol content of 0.144 percent may have had something to do with it.

The most Ben can remember is leaving school for home on Oct. 4, then regaining consciousness several days later in St. Mary’s, unaware of how he got there.

Though the collision turned his life around, he said he has no interest in going to college.

“I have to get a job,” he said.

That’s in part to satisfy the need to work with his hands, rather than sit through classes.

There’s another motivation, though.

His family has been working to pay his medical bills, and he wants to pull his own weight.

With all the scans and care he underwent, “I have a $140,000 head,” he said.

Actually it’s worth a bit more, now that it has a diploma.


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