Drunk driving presentation at CV impacts students
At a recent presentation at Chartiers Valley High School, presenter John DeCubellis Jr. wasn’t there to preach to students about the dangers of drinking and driving. Instead, he was there to talk about his daughter, Katie, who at 13 years old was killed by a drunk driver while riding to the mall with her best friend, Becky Bowman, and Becky’s mom, Marsha. Marsha was also killed in the accident.
DeCubellis and his wife Meg travel the country talking about their daughter, who was killed in 1999. With the help of Sergeant John Bates of the North Fayette Police Department, who is the school resource officer at West Allegheny High School, and Collier Township Police Officer Bill Oslick, who is Chartiers Valley’s resource officer, DeCubellis was able to come to Chartiers Valley to tell his daughter’s story.
“I’m not her to lecture you. I’m simply here to introduce all of you to Katie,” DeCubellis said. “I’m here to share our ordeal with you to help you make your own good decisions regarding drinking and driving.”
DeCubellis and his wife started the Katie DeCubellis Memorial Foundation shortly after her death.
“She had just celebrated her 13th birthday,” DeCubellis told the crowd of Chartiers Valley juniors and seniors who gathered for the presentation in the school’s gymnasium May 7. “When she died in 1999, Katie was in eighth-grade. She would be 26 now.”
DeCubellis said she was “probably the most caring and loving person I’ve ever known. Katie loved school and was No. 1 in her class.” DeCubellis added that at 13, Katie had already taken the SAT test three times because she thought it would be good practice. He said she scored higher than most high school seniors on the test.
“From the time she could speak, Katie aspired to be a pediatrician,” DeCubellis said. He said she wanted to go to Brown University and eventually Brown Medical School, which was a short distance from their home in Narragansett, R.I.
“She loved learning and experiencing everything life had to offer,” DeCubellis said of his eldest daughter. The Decubellis Family has two younger other children, Eliza and Kyle. “She was also very humble, sincere and genuine. Everything she did, she did with kindness and love.”
DeCubillis, who serves as a municipal court judge in Narragansett said he never imagined that his family would become victims. “Anyone could become the next victim in the blink of an eye,” he told the students. “Every decision has ramifications.”
On the night she was killed – a Friday in October, 1999 – Katie was supposed to go to a school dance, but it was cancelled. Instead, she spent the evening with her friend, Becky. The two of them had recently celebrated birthdays and decided they wanted to go to the mall to spend some of the gift cards they had received. Becky’s mom, Marsha drove them to the local mall.
DeCubellis said Marsha Bowman was driving along the highway when suddenly a vehicle that was going between 85 and 90 miles per hour struck Marsha’s Honda Civic and pushed the vehicle onto the median and eventually into the wrong lane.
“The vehicle was literally cut in half,” DeCubellis said. He said the back seat where Katie had been sitting was also cut in half. “The seat was more than 150 feet away from the vehicle.”
Becky Bowman survived the crash that killed Marsha and Katie.
After the crash, DeCubellis said police drove up to their home and told them that their daughter had been killed. He said as difficult as that was, he and his wife had to tell their then-10-year-old son, Kyle that his sister was gone. Their then-4-year-old daughter Eliza was staying with her grandparents that night. DeCubellis said it was very hard to then have to leave Kyle with his grandparents so that he and Meg could go to the hospital and identify Katie’s body.
“She was lying on a gurney with one tube protruding from her mouth,” DeCubellis said. He said he could smell a strong odor of gas. He added that even with the severity of the crash, Katie barely had a scratch on her.
DeCubellis said he and his wife then had to do the hardest things they had ever done which was pick out a casket and cemetery for their daughter and hold a funeral for her. “We tried to make her funeral like a celebration,” he said. He added that giving her eulogy was the hardest thing he has ever done in his life.
He said the family kept Katie’s room just the way it was for nearly seven years, not disturbing anything except to add all the cards and letters they had received after her death.
DeCubellis said the man who was speeding that night had a blood alcohol level of twice the legal limit in Rhode Island. The man pled no contest to five counts of driving while intoxicated and received a sentence of 15 years in prison. DeCubellis said he served 12 years of that sentence and is now out of jail.
Towards the end of the program, DeCubellis showed a video to students – one in a series that the family had made that are shown in Rhode Island as part of driver’s education classes. The video series, titled “The Deadly Consequences of Drunk Driving” showed photos from the actual crash, as well as interviews with Katie’s family and friends, including Becky Bowman.
After the assembly, Chartiers Valley High School senior Heidi Schmidt said she thought it was “so much more powerful when it’s a parent talking about their child,” than when someone else is talking about the dangers of drunk driving. “You can see that Katie’s not the one that made the bad decision.”
“You see the impact your decisions have on other people,” said senior April Bittner. Both Bittner and Schmidt said they cried during the video portion of the program.
Senior Abby Augustyniak-Romano said seeing the pictures on the video of the car after the accident “brought you to a whole other level of sympathy.” She added that she thought it was sad that “she will never get a chance to grow up.”
“I didn’t look at the pictures,” said senior Sahithi Narra, who said while that portion of the video was playing, she hid behind her friends. “I can’t deal with these situations. He connected with almost everybody. He’s so brave to keep reliving the situation.”
“I think people take some stuff for granted. More kids need to see stuff like this and speakers like that,” Schmidt said.