As I was diverted around the two-car crash that closed the intersection of Stockdale Highway and Coffee Road Monday morning, I had no idea that what transpired there earlier would consume my day, and this column.
Around 11:30 a.m. Monday, Californian reporter Rachel Cook posted a story on the crash on the BakersfieldCalifornian.com breaking news blog noting that 18-year-old Breana Webb had been killed early Monday morning when her car was hit by a suspected drunken driver heading the wrong way on Coffee Road.
It didn't take us more than 30 seconds on Facebook to see that Webb was a former student at Frontier High School. Her profile, minus a few photos, was private.
So I went to Twitter and found Webb's profile, which was open for anyone to read.
The first thing you notice is her profile photo -- a young woman biting candy off a candy bra of another young woman.
And then there's the last tweet sent about 12:30 a.m. Monday, just about three hours before the crash:
"Dude. Me & Jessica rule at drinking games."
It's at this point I can only sit at my desk and stare at the computer screen.
A young woman is dead. Her family and friends are in pain and they are publicly tweeting about their sadness, grief and contempt for the other driver. Police took Martin Juarez, 33, into custody following the crash.
Her friends want Juarez to serve life in prison for drinking and driving. They want him held responsible for Breana's death.
But in examining the social media profiles of Breana and her friends, another side of the story starts to take shape. Their public profiles display them as the young adults they are -- their time divided between school, athletics, putting up Halloween decorations with their families, and partying all night with their friends.
"We all gotta stop drinking and driving. It's stupid and were losing people cuz of it. That should be enough for us to stop," one of Breana's friends later posted on Twitter.
I'm not here to lay blame at anyone's feet. I expect writing this column will generate comments and emails for bringing this to light. I understand.
I've done my share of partying. The difference is that 20 years ago there was no social media site to post on, no detailed web history of our lives.
In 2012 there is a new field to play on. Social media has opened our lives in ways we never imagined. While the police department is investigating, and unable or unwilling to release more information, people are turning to sites like Facebook and Twitter to learn what happened. On Monday, we learned a lot on Twitter.
We learned the names of the two friends in the car with Webb, Jessica and Tyler.
We learned that Jessica was home, and asking her friends to come to her house Monday morning after the crash. Jessica even posted her address on Twitter. Californian reporter Jason Kotowski went to the house to talk to her but was told to leave.
We learned that Tyler was seriously injured. There has been no official word, but based on friends' tweets, fears of nerve damage have been ruled out and it looks like Tyler will be OK physically.
We learned there will be a fund-raiser to help Webb's family with funeral expenses at 5 p.m. Friday at the Park at River Walk.
We learned Breana's friend Cassie organized a candlelight vigil held Monday night. We learned Cassie's phone number.
We learned where Breana was Sunday night, and that the person whose house she was at was using Twitter to invite people over to drink. "I got an address if youre trynna drink," he posted late Sunday night.
We learned the address of that house. No one answered the door at the southwest Bakersfield house when a reporter visited Monday.
We learned from the host's Twitter feed that the last thing he said to Breana was, "Drive safe. Bye."
Then we saw his agony unfold on Twitter as he learned about the crash later that morning.
We read dozens of posts from teenagers swearing they would never drink again.
Scrolling back to tweets from Breana and her friends over the weekend, we see references to sex and drugs, and photos of parties.
I held my breath and thought of my own 8-year-old. I thought of something happening to him and how my heart would break. I swore to continue to teach him about what can and can't be seen online, and how to use social media responsibly.
I thought of all the job candidate resumes I've moved to the "no" pile even before I ever spoke to them. Their social media profiles spoke for them.
I thought about the ladies in the Intro to Social Media class I recently finished teaching at the Levan Institute. Many of them took the class to keep in touch with their kids and grandkids.
I showed them how to find their kids and grandkids on Facebook and Twitter. On Monday while reading tweets from Breana's friends, I saw messages like "14 grams of bud, 3 grams of wax and two handles of Bombay sb is about to be wiiiid ..." and "I have tape on my nipples."
All public. All out there for everyone to see.
One of the teens connected to Breana is 17 and pregnant. Her profile photo displays her bare belly, with the tagline, "My son is my everything." Based on her tweets, it appears she's taking classes through independent study. She adores her younger sister, and is desperate for her son to be born (every mom can relate to that last month of pregnancy). She tweets about having had to recently grow up and get her "s*** together."
I saved screenshots of a lot of this. It's part of my job as a journalist.
I sit here, knowing that what I'm writing will anger some people for shedding a negative light on these teens. But my hope is that it helps parents see what their children are doing, and shows us all how transparent and permanent our lives are online.
About two hours before the crash, Jessica tweeted, "whenever Breana & I play drinking games together we beat ass. and if we don't, it's a close ass game."
Nothing can undo any of this. There is never any chance to go back, but we can do better going forward.
Jamie Butow is the community engagement coordinator for The Bakersfield.com Network, a social media junkie and the mom of an active 8-year-old boy. Email her at JButow@bakersfield.com. Follow her atFacebook.com/JamieButow2, Twitter @JamieButow, and on Google+, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram, etc. JAMIE BUTOW: Teen's life and death unfolds on Twitter