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Wreck-less driving

The site of the crash where four teens died on Route 6 in Bristol, Connecticut. (Google Maps 2007)

Bristol, Connecticut, UNITED STATES – The parents of two teens killed in a high speed wreck last summer are using their own sorrowful experience to try to stop other young drivers from taking the same deadly risks.

David Roy and Dennis Gosselin, fathers of 16-year-old Alyssa Roy and 17-year-old Myles Gosselin – passengers who died in the August crash that claimed the lives of four teens – spoke to students at Bristol Eastern High School about the wrenching agony of losing a child.

As they spoke, their families stood near, wiping away tears.

Roy angrily asked the audience if they loved their parents.

“Do you want to see your parents cry like this? Make a poor choice.”

Gosselin began the night by telling the audience, mostly teenagers from the area’s high schools, that he loved them.

“When you leave us, it’s devastating. You guys are everything to us,” said Gosselin, whose son died along Roy and their friends Jordan Gagnon, 16, and Sean Landry, 18.

Police said Landry, who was driving, was going as fast as 140 mph when he crossed the center line and struck an oncoming car before smashing into a pole. The three people in the other car were also hurt, two seriously.

Gosselin said that young men, especially, are “built to take risks.” But he pleaded with them to think about other people while driving. “You’ve got to keep your pride in check. You need to know you don’t have to do dangerous things to prove your manhood.”

His daughter, Myles’ older sister Amanda Gosselin, agreed.

“Due to one selfish act, my family has to live without Myles.”

If there was nothing else that could be said to convince teens to slow down, she told the audience, “Do it alone. Don’t take other lives with you.”

Dennis Gosselin continued by telling the audience that they should not only be careful while driving, but also when choosing whether or not to get in the car with a reckless driver.

“You guys know what’s right or wrong. Be aware of the people around you. Someone that you trust or care about could be the one that kills you,” Gosselin said.

That’s what happened to his son, Gosselin said.

Gosselin said he wants kids to understand how dangerous speeding is. To demonstrate this, he dropped a water bottle and let it fall to the ground, crushed. He said that it was going at one mile per hour and crumpled, and told the audience to imagine what would happen at 100 miles per hour.

When Roy spoke to the group, he said he has a memorial for the kids that died in the crash in his house complete with the pictures and ashes of the children.

He said he made an appeal in front of the memorial that morning before coming to speak at the forum, saying, “Guys, give me the strength to convey a message.”

He was able to convey the message he wanted to. He pleaded with the audience to not make the “poor choices” that his daughter did when she got into a car with a reckless driver.

“Choices, it’s that simple,” said Roy. “Don’t make the wrong choices.”

Roy told the audience that it’s okay to speak up if they’re uncomfortable with someone’s driving.

“We’ll never know if these kids were screaming for Sean to slow down,” he said. He said he hopes they were.

It was obvious that both families were grieving the loss of their young relatives.

“My baby girl is gone,” Roy said. “My wife’s best friend is gone. My two sons’ sister is gone… (But) we have to come out of this together.”

Sharon Kenney, a longtime Bristol emergency medical service worker, told the audience at the forum that she’d responded to many accidents in her years of service.

“People like me, who have spent years putting sheets over teenagers” are still deeply affected by horrific accidents, Kenney said.

She said the memories of traumatic crashes have stayed with her over the years.

“I can identify every intersection, every pole, every tree where there has been a major accident. It stays with me forever.”

She told teens to be smart and drive safely. “All it takes is one. It takes one person to say, ‘I will not take (reckless driving) anymore.’”

Officer Brad Schaffrick of the Bristol Police Department also spoke to teens about driving. He said the August crash was the worst the town had ever seen.

“It was way beyond reckless.”

He said that his own statistics gathered from questioning driver’s education students showed teens’ inability to see the issues with driving recklessly. Shaffrick said that he asked students in about three classes if they would get in a car with a driver that was known to be reckless, and about a third of them said they would.

He also asked how many reckless drivers the students knew. Most kids, he said, said they knew about eight.

But Schaffrick said even his own statistics proved there was a lack of knowledge or concern of the possible consequences of bad driving.

To remedy the issues with teen driving, the state of Connecticut is changing the rules for young drivers.

Department of Motor Vehicles Commissioner Bob Ward, who is also the co-chair of Connecticut Gov. Jodi Rell’s Teen Driving Task Force said the penalty for violating laws about the number of passengers would increase under the new laws.

Teens are three times more likely to get in an accident if there are more people in the vehicle, according to Ward. “The distraction level raises substantially.”

The state’s curfew for young drivers will be set earlier, too, said Ward, to 11 p.m., because 40 percent of accidents happen between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m.

Ward said that reckless driving is being recognized as a statewide issue because, he said, “the single leading cause” of death for 16, 17, and 18-year-olds is accidents.

Before the night ended, Myles Gosselin’s father said, “I’m here because I want to save teen lives.”

He wasn’t alone. It was obvious that every speaker there had that in mind while pleading with the audience to make good choices and drive safely.

Rachel Glogowski is a Senior Reporter for Youth Journalism International.

Tributes to the teens killed in the crash were painted on the pavement at the site. (Google Maps 2007)