Jacob Welsh did everything right, his grandfather, who Welsh calls Papa, will tell you.
He’d saved the money he made at Broadway Grand Prix and bought himself a 2004 burgundy Mazda 6.
He and his Papa, Jim Shenay, went to the DMV Feb. 19, got the car’s tags and put them on together.
That evening, Shenay took a picture “when Jacob rolled out at 5:30,” because it was the first time Welsh drove alone.
He went to dinner at Chick-fil-A with his New Spring Church youth group, saying he’d be home by 9:30.
At 9:20, already dark, just a handful of miles from home, he was hit, “just about head on,” Shenay says.
The next thing Welsh knew, it was five weeks later, he was in ICU at Grand Strand Medical Center, and he had no idea why.
The 18-year-old PALM Charter School senior had traumatic brain injury.
His spleen and 13 inches of his intestine were removed.
His left wrist was broken. Both legs were broken and the right one, shattered.
His cheekbones were fractured, his nose and clavicle were broken, and his front teeth were knocked out.
Master Trooper Brian Lee with the South Carolina Highway Patrol said the driver of the vehicle that hit Welsh was charged with DUI for a crash causing great bodily injury.
Welsh was turning onto Luttie Road from S.C. 707 when the 34-year-old Myrtle Beach man’s car slammed into Welsh’s, “causing him to run off the road and hit the utility pole.”
But less than three months later, sitting in his grandparents’ living room, Welsh says he’s going to be a welder, and maybe go into the military.
“The Marines,” he says. “Gotta go with the best.”
Welsh tries twice to tie his right sneaker’s lace with his left hand, the one that has the plate in it.
Making that final loop with the lace is too complicated, and he leans back, beside his grandmother, Linda, who he calls Graya.
“Did you get it? she asks, and Welsh laughs, says, “No,” and doesn’t seem concerned.
Ironically, Welsh’s Dad also had a life-changing accident, and he’s the teen’s role model.
Seven years ago, George Welsh, then a roofer, fell 35 feet and is partially paralyzed as a result.
But today, he has a lawn care business and is described by his son as “strong.”
“His Dad is the same way that Jacob is,” Shenay says. “His Dad doesn’t dwell on what happened. He got through it.”
Home from the hospital just a week and two days, Welsh started multiple levels of therapy.
That includes speech therapy, physical therapy, cognitive therapy, and Linda Shenay says he’s already come a long way.
“He didn’t recognize us at first, and it took weeks before he could respond to commands,” she remembers.
They were able to visit Welsh at first, but the hospital’s shutdown to visitors because of COVID-19 kept them away for way too long.
They FaceTimed some, and talked on the phone, but it was rough on all of them not being able to meet in person.
Staying with his Papa and Graya, around the corner from where his Dad lives, Welsh is looking forward to a whole lot of things.
That includes being baptized, which was supposed to happen March 11.
It includes his 19th birthday on May 27, two days before graduation from PALM Charter. It includes fishing, playing basketball, being outside, being with his friends from church and going back to work.
“I wanted to get out of that dadgum hospital ever since I got there,” he says, laughing.
“He believes in God, country and…” Shenay begins, and Welsh finishes for him, with “…and Chevrolet.”
“He’s such a good boy,” his Papa says, looking at Welsh the way proud grandfathers do. “He was a good kid before this happened and he’s a good kid now.”
PALM Charter principal Avery Moore agrees.
“He’s always volunteering, he’s likable across the board, super nice and always smiling,” he says about Welsh.
When Welsh smiles now, he looks away, self-conscious about his missing teeth.
But when he grins because he just can’t help it, he looks even more vulnerable, like the little kid he is, inside the bravado.
Linda Shenay owns Trendsetters, a beauty salon in Myrtle Beach.
Jim Shenay was a Myrtle Beach police officer for 28 years. After retiring in 2014, he became the resource officer at Palm Charter School.
Welsh went to school early with his Papa, early enough to set up traffic cones, and left late enough to take them down.
“Jacob’s the kid who always stands up for the little guy,” his Graya says. “The special needs kids get bullied sometimes, and Jacob always steps in.”
He says he’s not angry with the man who hit him, and knows he “has no choice” but to forgive him.
“We’ve never had anything like this in our family,” Jim Shenay says. “As a cop, I’ve seen a lot of tragedy, but it was always someone else’s.”
The family wasn’t given much hope when the accident happened, and in the first week, the teenager coded several times.
“He has a long road ahead of him, we don’t know what the future holds,” Shenay says, but adds that if support has anything to do with Jacob’s progress, he’s got it made.
Moore, and Welsh’s boss, Mark Lazarus, were at Shenay’s Socastee home before Welsh even got there after leaving the hospital.
And when the church had a special tribute night for Welsh, Lazarus closed Broadway Grand Prix so he and the employees could be part of it.
“We closed early that day to make sure everyone could get home to freshen up and be there for the prayer vigil for Jacob,” Lazarus says.
“We sat together and held hands and prayed for Jacob and told stories about Jacob, and it was quite moving.
“His enthusiasm is something everyone should aspire to, having that kind of work ethic and moving forward.”
Welsh’s youth pastor, Johnathan Foster, says there was a packed house “for the hope-filled night,” because “Jacob is a bright light, a breath of fresh air.”
Foster says Welsh has typical life struggles that come with being a teenager, but that he’s always positive.
“Things happen for a reason,” Welsh says. “Maybe this happened to let me know I’m strong like my Dad.”