By Tamas Mondovics
Close to 600 students made their way into the school auditorium at Newsome High last month for an event they will not forget anytime soon and hopefully recall when the thought of sitting behind the wheel after drinking crosses their minds.
The hour-long program led by Florida State Attorney General Pam Bondi and special guest Matthew Durrell brought the students a stern message about sadness, punishment and redemption as it addressed the dangers and consequences of drinking and driving.
After a brief introduction, Bondi explained to the audience her unique friendship with Durrell and shared passion for preventing drinking and driving based on a prosecution she led in 1996, which put the then 18-year-old Bloomingdale High School student, Durrell, in prison for 20 years.
“When I was an assistant state attorney in Hillsborough County, I prosecuted Matthew, resulting in his conviction of DUI Manslaughter and sentenced to prison for killing three of his friends while he was driving intoxicated,” Bondi said, commanding the students’ attention.
Pointing to several large grim images of the crash on the stage, Bondi added that she never wanted to see or speak to the teen again, but for the sake of those now in her audience, it was time for redemption to take the place of sadness and punishment.
“The decisions I made as a teenager, which ultimately claimed three lives and destroyed three families, have haunted me for my entire life,” Durrell began. “I will always regret that horrible night and tragedy and I only hope that by sharing my experience with you today I can help prevent similar tragedies.”
Today, Durrell rides his bicycle to work, and although no longer in prison, he is facing five more years of probation.
The program did not fall on deaf ears as dozens of students lined up to thank Bondi for her attention to the problem of teen drinking and driving and Durrell’s courage to share his story. Newsome senior Janae Moret, whose brother was injured in an accident caused by a drunk driver, personally thanked Bondi for taking time out and visiting the school.
“Young people especially my age, think that they are invincible. Seeing Mr. Durrell come out and share his experience definitely hit home and has a strong impact on us,” Moret said.
The program has been going on for some time now and Bondi promised that it will remain a regular part on her agenda. For more information about the program, please visit www.myfloridalegal.com.