Profile: A family’s journey from tragedy to a better life
By NEAL WAGNER / City Editor
Every day since December 2012, Josh Carden has done something he was unable to do for the first 20 years of his life.
Get the mail.
“I go check the mail in the mailbox every day,” Carden, who has cerebral palsy and uses an electric wheelchair for mobility, said as a wide smile spread across his face while sitting in his NASCAR-themed bedroom.
“He was never able to do that before,” Carden’s grandmother, Louise Pickett, said.
“That traffic out there was so darn bad,” Carden quickly added, his smile slowly fading.
For Carden and his grandmother, no highway will ever hold as haunting a memory as Alabaster’s Fulton Springs Road near its intersection with Interstate 65.
On Monday, Dec. 6, 2010, the family’s world forever changed when Carden’s grandfather, Tommy Pickett, was struck by a car in front of the family’s residence on Fulton Springs Road while crossing the street to pick Carden up from a school bus stop.
Tommy Pickett, 73, was airlifted from the scene to a hospital, where he died the next day.
Because Pickett was Carden’s primary caregiver, the loss was especially devastating for a family already facing daily struggles in caring for a special-needs child.
“Josh cried a lot after it happened. For a long time, I didn’t think he would ever be happy again,” Louise Pickett said. “His Paw Paw was everything to him.”
“I’ll tell you something. I learned when something like that happens, you can’t do nothing but accept it,” Carden said after a brief pause.
A community rallies
Carden was a senior at Thompson High School when tragedy struck. Always one to greet friends and strangers alike with a smile, Carden was beloved by his Alabaster classmates and teachers while growing up in the city’s schools.
When the accident left Carden without a grandfather and primary caregiver a few days before Christmas, the entire city banded together to ensure the family was taken care of during the holiday season.
Pat Hamrick, a special education teacher and varsity baseball coach at THS, had become close friends with Carden and his family, and had even taken Carden and Tommy Pickett to a NASCAR race at Talladega a few months before the accident.
“All I was trying to do was get Josh a flat-screen TV for Christmas as a way to help get his mind off losing his grandfather,” Hamrick said while recollecting the events in November 2013.
Facing a short deadline before school let out for the Christmas break, Hamrick and other THS faculty members challenged the school’s student body to raise $1,000 to purchase the TV for Carden.
The results of the fundraiser stunned everyone involved.
“The kids raised $13,000 in a few days,” Hamrick said, still displaying a surprised look nearly two years later. “We were able to get the TV, his Christmas gifts, we paid his mortgage for six months, we were able to pay his cable and power bills, we were able to repair his van and pay it off.
“It was a big loss. He was in so much pain,” Hamrick said. “But he makes you feel like, no matter what he is going through, he’s still happy and he always has a smile on his face.”