Tristan was looking forward to spending time with her boyfriend, Malek, then 19. Tristan and Malek had been going out for nearly a year, and Tristan was in deep: “This was the one person I loved with my whole heart,” she says. “Having him around just made things 10 times happier.”
Around the bonfire, kids drank from bottles of malt liquor and rum, singing along with the music from their truck radios and dancing. Tristan mostly talked to her cousin, Bryson, then 18, but wherever she was, she could hear Malek’s distinctive laugh: “He had this sort of little scream-laugh, any one of his friends could pick it out—and I’d look over, and I’d see him smiling,” she remembers.
The couple had argued earlier in the day—Tristan thought Malek, who’d graduated the year before, was hanging out with the party crowd too much—but she was still sure they’d be together forever.
They spent nearly every day with each other, and nothing could change that: “We just needed to figure out what we wanted for our future,” Tristan says. But the bonfire was no place for a heavy talk. She figured they had plenty of time to sort things out in the morning.
But that conversation never happened. That night Malek, Tristan, and their friends got into a car with someone who’d been drinking—and it wound up costing Malek his life.
The crash that killed Malek devastated his friends and family and shook their small community in Washington State, but it was not unusual: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), six teens die in car accidents each day, and more than a third of those fatal car accidents involve alcohol.