DRACUT — “What the Hell just happened?” said someone inside one of the two cars that have just been involved in a head-on collision.
Dracut High School seniors Ashley Tello and Kosta Gregory crawl out of the wreckage, their faces covered with blood. Their anguished shrieks pierce the air, as they see their friend, who has been thrown from the vehicle, motionless on the side of the road, blood flowing from a gaping head wound.
“Ally! Oh, my God! Ally!” Tello screams.
It’s only a dramatization, put on as a somber warning amid prom and graduation season by the school system in conjunction with the Police and Fire departments, but this “Make a Date (Driver Awareness Through Education) With Life” program’s mock accident seemed too real for comfort.
Police sirens can be heard in the distance as passengers in the other vehicles groan incoherently. Tello and Gregory are joined by classmate Elyse Turgeon, who pulled herself out of one of the wrecks. “No. No. No. Ally!”
Students, all seniors from the Class of 2008, watch the scene from a grassy knoll behind the high school. Their eyes are riveted to the scene. They bite their bottom lips. They clutch each other and sob openly. A grisly scene like this isn’t hard to imagine. They watch the news. They read the papers. Many of them know somebody who has been involved in a serious accident.
Police arrive on the scene, followed by firefighters and paramedics. Hydraulic tools are used to cut away the metal that has wrapped itself around one of the drivers and several passengers. A firefighter checks the pulse of the girl on the ground. He walks away silently, as police officers cover the body of Ally Malonis with a sheet.
Officer Barry Cregg pulls empty beer bottles and a quart of hard liquor from one of the cars. In this dramatization, Matt Monbleau, one of the most popular seniors in the class, is taken into custody on charges of driving under the influence of alcohol. He is expected to face a vehicular homicide charge.
And just when the students watching from the lawn think they’ll get an emotional breather, Lorrie Malonis comes running onto the scene, trying to break through a cadre of officers to get to her daughter. Grief stricken and wailing, she is restrained by Cregg and the Rev. Larry Zimmerman, the fire chaplain.
Crash victims are placed in ambulances and taken away, but for 17-year-old Ally Malonis, there is a hearse. Whether by design or happenstance, the Dracut Funeral Home hearse parks within feet of the spectators on the lawn. She’s placed in a body bag and then into the back of the hearse, while her mother, in hysterics, tries to climb in. The hearse drives away quietly.
Students, somber-faced, file back into the school for an assembly of the senior class.
If the mock crash hasn’t yet driven home the alcohol-awareness message to the students, what comes next just might. They are met by a coffin just inside the door of the auditorium. A half-length mirror in the coffin bears the cryptic message, “This Could Be You.”
For Dodi Hughes, the program was all too real. Hughes is the mother of Betsie Hughes, a senior at North Middlesex Regional High School who was killed in 1999, along with her boyfriend Sean Wellington, in a horrific crash caused by 31-year-old drunken driver Irving Chapman.
“I know that some of you here will not listen to what I have to say,” said Hughes, whose voice was so whisper-thin that the audience sometimes had to strain to hear her. “When I hugged my daughter goodbye that day, how could I know it would be the last time I would see her alive?”
Chapman is serving a 28-to-30-year sentence in prison for the fatal crash. He had been drinking most of the day when he got behind the wheel and collided with Hughes and Wellington. During her impact statement in court, Dodi Hughes told Chapman that she forgave him.
“I told him that I knew he didn’t mean to kill Betsie and Sean. He made the wrong choice to drink and drive,” she said. “After he was convicted people kept talking about closure. There is no closure. Closure means an end. There is no end. There is a conscious void in our lives 24 hours a day. Betsie and Sean are still dead. They always will be.”
Hughes said she hoped the dramatization and anything she had to say would stay with the students long after the day was done. She told the students that they will find themselves in circumstances where someone has had too much to drink and wants to get behind the wheel.
“If it takes 10 of you, stop that person. Get their keys,” she said.