By John Swinconeck, Contributing Writer
Northborough – ?Nick Cappello will never forget the early morning phone he received in his hotel room in 2005, telling him that his son was killed. Cappello won's forget what he described as the “constant stream of tears” he shared with his wife, Jan. His son, Paul, was 21 when his SUV reportedly struck a boulder, ending his life. Cappello said the accident left him with questions that will forever be unanswered: Did Paul suffer? What were his last thoughts? Why did his friends let him drive, even though Paul was inebriated?
To help spare others his grief, Cappello spoke with students at Algonquin Regional High School Nov. 8 as the high school held a safe driving awareness program, titled “Every 15 Minutes.” During the morning, students were removed from class and sequestered to symbolize having been killed, injured, or arrested as the result of an auto accident.
That afternoon, the entire student body gathered in the gym, where students and staff spoke about the causes and ramifications of the “accidents.” Some students and faculty read their own eulogies. Others composed letters from the point of view of a person jailed for vehicular homicide or manslaughter.
Some students, and even faculty members, became emotional during the readings, crying openly.
The assembly was shown student-produced Public Service Announcement videos that ran the gamut from light-hearted – featuring LEGO stop-motion animation – to somber and reflective.
Northborough Police representatives were on hand, including Detective Sergeant Brian Griffin, who spoke of the jail time and lawsuits that can be incurred as a result of impaired or distracted driving. One officer took a student into custody during a mock arrest midway through the assembly.
The program was “about good choices” and created a “ripple effect” throughout the school, said Guidance Counselor Pamela Mackey.
“Every 15 Minutes” was organized by Algonquin's Students Against Drunk Driving (SADD) chapter, spearheaded by the school's SADD President Maddie Partridge. Partridge said that it was important to reach Algonquin students at all levels, whether or not they are old enough to drive.
SADD was formed at Algonquin after a single vehicle drunk driving accident killed sisters Shauna and Meghan Murphy in 2005. A passenger, Melissa Smith, was reportedly seriously injured.
Since then, Mackey said, the SADD program has helped students to keep each other safe.
Guidance Counselor Becca Haberman acknowledged the difficult emotions that underlay the program, and noted that she and Macky were at first opposed to holding it.
“Some of you may think this isn's real, that this is stupid. But I'se seen too many kids pass away,” Haberman said at the assembly.
“The reason we held the program is if we can just reach one of you, we'se done our job,” said Macky.
Cappello, meanwhile, said he will continue to carry his loss “every single day.”
“It could have been prevented,” said Cappello. “Drinking and driving is a death sentence.”
Cappello warned students that the ramifications of unsafe driving may affect many more people than just those in the car.
“It's not just your life, but the life you share with your family and friends,” said Cappello. “No parent should ever, ever have to bury their child.”