Destiny Mantia stood in front of the mirror. Her son Parker, meanwhile, was nestled against her chest, held up by a baby carrier worn over her shoulders like a backpack. The baby looked up at his mom, a slight hint of wonderment on his young face.
And as Destiny had her iPhone in hand, she couldn’t resist snapping a picture of herself, her baby carrier and her sweet son sitting snugly inside. Little did she know, however, that it would be one of the last selfies like this she’d ever take.
Way before Destiny took that image, however, she had met the guy who would eventually become her husband: Corey Mantia. At the time of the pair’s first encounter, she was 15 and he was 16, and the two became quickly smitten with each other. “He was super funny and caring and would always help anyone who needed it,” Destiny would tell ABC News in September 2015. “We had talked non-stop. There wasn’t a day we weren’t together. We did everything together.”
What’s more, the spark the teens felt on that fateful day in 2008 stayed alive, and they went on to marry three years later. Then, after saying their vows, they quickly settled into family life. They welcomed a son, Parker Lee, on June 23, 2013, when Destiny was just 20 years old.
And following the arrival of her son, Destiny became a stay-at-home mom. That wasn’t an easy situation for her and her husband, though; indeed, she, Corey and Parker lived paycheck to paycheck. But Destiny and her husband still had a happy life watching Parker grow up, celebrate his first birthday and even learn how to swim.
And September 20, 2014, may have seemed just like any other day for the young family at first. That morning, Corey had headed to work as usual. Meanwhile, his wife and son spent their day at home. They played together until Corey returned from the office, ready to take over baby duties.
However, Corey’s workday didn’t end when he came home; you see, he and Destiny relied on a side business in the beauty industry to make ends meet. So they packed up their products, secured baby Parker into his car seat and buckled up for the drive from their home through Lincoln County, Missouri.
There was no way that the pair could have known, though, that this would be their last car ride as a family. “Little did we know in a few short minutes everything would change,” Destiny would go on to write in a Facebook post. “We would no longer get to live our future together. Any dreams we had would no longer happen together.”
As the Mantias made their way to their appointment, 42-year-old Shanna Cook headed home from a wedding reception where she had been drinking. And although she was driving her SUV on the other side of the road, she managed to veer over the center line. Consequently, she struck the family’s Chrysler Town and Country, smashing into their van almost head-on.
Fortunately, both Destiny and Corey wore their seatbelts, and baby Parker was strapped securely into his rear-facing car seat. But despite them following all the rules of the road and taking every safety precaution, not everyone in the family survived the crash.
“My amazing husband who was driving, my precious baby whom I still nursed and kept rear-facing watching Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, and I were struck nearly head-on at an excessive speed by a drunk driver,” Destiny wrote on Facebook. “The action of this one selfish person who thought they were ‘okay’ to drive instantly took the life of my sweet, innocent 15-month-old son in the backseat.”
But while the unimaginable had happened for Destiny and Corey, the horror didn’t end there. Both had to be airlifted from the scene of the accident to treat their injuries, for instance. And, tragically, within 24 hours of the crash, Corey had died too. The SUV’s driver also later perished.
Indeed, Destiny was the accident’s sole survivor, left to heal from a severe concussion. She also had to get to grips with the shattering reality that she was now both a widow and, as she has described herself, a “mom to an angel.” “I grieve for Corey. I needed him,” she told ABC News. She added, “I needed him to tell me, ‘Everything is going to be okay.’”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, she had an extremely difficult time coming to terms with the new life she had to lead on her own. “After I realized there was nothing I could do to bring them back is when I grieved Parker,” she said to ABC News. “It’s almost unimaginable at times with birthdays and holidays.”
As a result, she came to terms with her emotions by using Facebook, later telling BuzzFeed that she considered the social media site her “diary” as she navigated her grief. Then the one-year anniversary of the accident inspired her to write a commemorative message that would make waves across the internet.
“One selfish decision to drink and drive caused me to be a widow and a mom to an angel at the age of 21,” Destiny wrote. “[Cook] has caused many nightmares… such as an autopsy of my baby being sent to me, or many reconstruction pictures. Many things a 21-year-old should never have to see or imagine. She ended any dreams that we may have had together and caused pain I never knew existed.”
“That day, the Destiny that was a mom and wife died as well,” the post continued. “I’ve since had to find myself. I never knew the strength I could pull out that I never knew I had. I think I was able to find this strength through the prayers and support of many friends and family and also an amazing widows’ group, who kept me knowing I was normal for feeling how I felt.”
And her final words struck a chord with readers across the internet and across the world. She wrote, “This hurt, pain and our future could have all been prevented if someone would have stepped up and stopped this selfish woman from drinking and driving. You can save someone’s life too! Don’t allow your friends and family [to] drink and drive. Don’t share DUI checkpoints. Be an advocate! Stand up with me! Let’s stop this. One is too many. DON’T DRINK AND DRIVE!”
In fact, her post went on to receive a whopping 27.7 million views – and that doesn’t include the shares it got from news websites and on other forms of social media. And Destiny reacted in amazement upon seeing how others connected with her post and agreed with its sentiment. “To see just how much awareness is being made towards drinking and driving truly blows my mind,” she said in a separate Facebook post. “This doesn’t include post[s] that were shared. Millions! We can make a difference.”
Since then, Destiny’s anti-drink-driving advocacy has been one major part of her effort to rebuild her life after the accident. And, slowly but surely, she has mended her personal life, too. On May 20, 2017, she married Brett Klimaszewski, who works for the same beauty and wellness company as her. And, together, the pair are looking towards the future as they expect a child – although Destiny will never, ever forget her past.