Friends of Sean Wellington gathered this week to rededicate the new and improved Sean Wellington Basketball Courts in Pepperell.
Though Sean died in 1999 at the age of 18, it doesn’t seem that long ago.
It was frigidly cold that night. From the onset, the scene was busy but quiet. Talking was done in whispers.
Sean’s passenger, Betsie Hughes, 19, was still alive. She was taken by ambulance to Nashoba Valley Medical Center, where she died not long after.
At the scene, the front of the small car Betsie and Sean had been riding in was crushed. It had been run over by a dump truck being driven on Route 119 by a drunken-driver. Inside the car, which was draped with a tarp, was Sean.
He was left there until the medical examiner arrived. Hours passed. Though it was what had to be done, it didn’t seem right to leave him there, alone.
In the days to come, a myriad of stories came from the defendant’s camp as he, Irving Chapman of Pepperell, tried to dodge responsibility for killing two more kids. He’d already served time for killing another Pepperell teen, Shawn Kinsman.
He wasn’t supposed to be driving. But even when he was caught the month before, the court let him go.
He took to the roads once again. And once again, he was drinking.
He struck three vehicles that night on that stretch of road near North Middlesex Regional High School where Sean and Betsie were students. In the end, he received a long prison sentence. He appealed, and got five more years from an angry judge.
One of the most remarkable outcomes of the accident was the course taken by Betsie’s Mom, Dorothy. She embarked on a campaign to educate young people about the dangers of drinking and driving. Her efforts, undertaken despite her own pain, are remarkable and courageous, and they continue to this day.
Eleven years later, we ask ourselves if drunken-drivers still kill and maim people.
We wonder if society is any more responsible about drinking and then driving.
Perhaps, but not enough.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2008, 37,261 people died in motor vehicle accidents in the United States; 37 percent were alcohol- related. In Massachusetts in 2008, 363 people died; 42 percent of those accidents were related to alcohol.
“Drinking and driving: There are stupider things, but it’s a very short list.”