SEBASTIAN – Three groups of people, all on the same road at the same time at Sebastian River High School collide, killing three, injuring five and leading to the arrest of one accused drunk-driver.
The scene is set, members of the school’s Students Against Drunk Driving take their places, doused in a red liquid, some motionless.
A few hundred seniors from the school sit on bleachers in the school’s bus loop, watching the scene unfold. Some twist their hands nervously, others bite their lower lip.
Playing over the speakers, just before the “crash,” the audience hears the motorbike’s driver offer his helmet to his female passenger – “Nothing ever happens to me,” he says.
In a pickup truck, the passengers and driver talk about the party they were leaving and wondering if there would be enough beer on the beach for everyone.
In a car, an adult tells one of the passengers she should call home because they’re 10 minutes from the school. As the woman hands a girl the cell phone, it drops, distracting her for a moment.
A car of witnesses pulls over and teenagers pour out, running through the scene, checking on everyone. One places a call to 911.
Emergency personnel arrive and quickly assess the damage – 3 dead, at least 5 injured. The truck’s driver has a gash over her left eye. She’s led away to the back of a squad car.
The scene has become all too familiar to emergency crews across the country, especially in the spring when high schools hold prom and graduation.
“This can be emotional, if you let it to be,” Sebastian River High Principal Daniel Gilbertson told the assembled students after the scene played out. “This is about your lives.”
Indian River County Fire Rescue and Sheriff’s Office, along with First Flight Air Ambulance and the school’s SADD group, put on the mock DUI event to drive home the point that no one should drink and drive and no one should ever get into a vehicle with a drunk driver.
Dr. Glenn Tremml, an Emergency Room doctor at the Indian River Medical Center, laid out for the students the extent of the injuries the DUI victims received:
Dani Gasperik – dead on scene; thrown through windshield.
Wesley Davis – dead on scene; ejected from bike.
Haleigh Williams – dead on scene.
Margaret Mattingly – numerous severe injuries, including broken bones, airlifted to Lawnwood Regional Trauma Center; expected to have a “tube in every orifice,” the doctor said.
Crisie Reno – broken pelvis, damaged C4 vertebrae, facial lacerations, assorted bone breaks; could be paralyzed, suffer Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, become dependent on pain pills and later alcohol. “She’ll never return to the girl she used to be,” Dr. Tremml said.
Hannah Matthews – fractured arms, road rash.
Frankie Colon – leg fracture, ancillary injuries.
Judith Valles – driver, arrested on suspicion of DUI, minor injuries.
Lori Sanetti – driver, minor injuries.
“These are real injuries that happen to real people,” Dr. Tremml told the students. Of 15 back-to-back trauma cases that he handled at the ER, all had either drugs or alcohol as a contributing factor.
He said that the hardest part isn’t treating the injured – it’s talking to the parents of the dead.
Indian River County State Attorney Bruce Colton also addressed the senior class – from the point of view of the arrested driver.
He laid out the charges Valles would face, that she would most likely go to jail on $50,000 or $60,000 bail. Her family would have to either cover the full cost or hire a bail bonds service at 10 percent.
An attorney to defend her, he estimated, could run $25,000.
Even if she were released on bond, Colton said she wouldn’t be allowed to walk in Graduation.
“As your life moves on,” he said of Valles’s classmates, “her life won’t.”
A plea deal might be struck between the prosecution and defense – but even so, the judge would be forced to give Valles the minimum sentence, at least – 40 years.
“Geez,” a student whispered in the crowd.
The maximum sentence is 60 years, Colton said – and there’s no early release or parole in Florida.
Once prosecuted, convicts must serve at least 85 percent of their sentence before becoming eligible for release. In Valles’s case, it would be 34 years.
“It’s the same as if your life ended,” Colton said, adding that Valles would miss out on family events, her own wedding, the possibility of becoming a mother, of attaining her dreams.
“I want you to think about that – for you,” Colton said.
A real-life DUI survivor also spoke to the students, sharing her own tale of living with the consequences of drunk driving.
Patti Warren, seated in a wheelchair, told the students that she had not been drinking and didn’t know that her friend, who was driving, had been.
Two years after graduating from Vero Beach High School – Class of 1987 – they had been making their way to The Patio for dinner.
Her friend lost control of the Cadillac Coup DeVille and overcorrected, spinning the vehicle in the process. It collided with another vehicle, tossing Warren through the passenger window.
She landed against a tree, one of the vehicles pinning her.
The crash destroyed her middle vertebra and damaged her spinal cord, paralyzing her from the waist down.
It happened the week before her 20th birthday.
“You’re not that far off,” she said. “I don’t want this to happen to you.”
Her friend was never tested for blood alcohol and was not charged in the crash.
A student asked Warren what injuries the friend sustained.
“Two black eyes,” she said.
“Oh God,” another student murmured in response.
Warren said she would do anything to go back to that day – make a different choice. But she can’t.
“Think about those things,” she told the students.