BURRILLVILLE – At any time, anyone can make the wrong decision that will change lives forever, said John Abbate, Burrillville High School athletic director.
Abate spoke at a BHS forum titled, “A Conversation about Impaired Driving, the Law, and a Call to Action,” on Wednesday, August 16. Student athletes and their parents or guardians, and coaches attended the forum, which was sponsored by the Tori Lynn Andreozzi Foundation. The forum was mandated for students athletes to attend to play sports this fall.
This is the second year Abbate has brought to Burrillville the forum on making Rhode Island roadways safer by eliminating impaired driving, or driving under the influence.
“We had this program last year, and I was watching from the side; no one, students and parents, was on the phone or got up to leave; they were quiet as church mice. You can’t get this message enough,” Abbate said as he introduced this year’s forum.
Audience member, football player Logan Gelinas, age 16, said, “I’m excited and honored to be here due to the fact that the fall is right around the corner.” Gelinas will enter eleventh grade.
“Cities and towns across the state recognize RI’s Department of Transportation for its outstanding work to create safer roads and bridges. What some people don’t always ‘see’ is how much effort, time, and funds RIDOT puts into creating a road safety culture that heightens the awareness of how we use our roads,” said Gabriel Abbate, chief of the Office of Highway Safety for RIDOT, in an interview.
RIDOT’s Abbate was part of the forum on the problem of driving while impaired.
“We support and fund programs like this because they extend the traffic safety conversation that I hear every day at RIDOT, the conversation that begins with acknowledging our ultimate goal of zero fatalities,” she explained.
The forum, “was an opportunity to remind student athletes, their choices can take them out of the game – forever,” said Cathy Andreozzi, of the Tori Lynn Andreozzi Foundation, who also presented.
“Our choices dictate the moments in our life. They will be moments we long to relive or live to regret,” she said.
Cathy Andreozzi is the mother of the late Tori Lynn Andreozzi.
A hit-and-run drunk driver, “forever changed the lives of 12-year-old Tori Lynn Andreozzi and all those who love her,” on March 26, 2003, according to information on the Tori Lynn Andreozzi Foundation website. “Although Tori was never the same little girl who left for school that morning, out of this devastating and totally preventable tragedy came her foundation.” Further facts include that, “Tori suffered a debilitating brain injury and numerous other severe injuries and until her passing in November of 2022, lived at home with her mother for almost 20 years in a minimally conscious state, unable to walk, speak, or eat requiring 24-hour-a-day care.”
According to Cathy Andreozzi, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found, “Traffic crashes are a leading cause of death for teens. Impairment, passengers, distractions from mobile phones and navigation systems, speeding, and not wearing a seat belt are among the major contributing factors to the number of teen injuries and fatalities on our nation’s roads each year.”
The NHTSA, explained Andreozzi, “reports that when it comes to crashes the consequences of alcohol and marijuana use by minors, the lack of seat belt use, and the increased of distracted driving is becoming a growing epidemic in the country.”
“As the state’s only Level 1 Trauma Center, we see the consequences of impaired driving every day,” said Nie Bohlen, trauma program manager at Rhode Island Hospital, another member of the panel.
“On average, 30 percent of those admitted with injuries from a motor vehicle collision are positive for alcohol and 25 percent are positive for marijuana,” explained Bohlen.
“One of the most difficult things to witness as a healthcare provider is the loss of life and the loss of function caused by a severe traumatic brain injury like the experiences Cathy Andreozzi and Mark Dennison described with their children. This suffering can be prevented. Make a plan, don’t drive drunk, don’t drive high and don’t text and drive,” said trauma expert Bohlen.
The three-quarters full high school auditorium audience sat in rapt attention listening to the panel of speakers, that also included Stephen Sambruch, chief of the Criminal Division at the Rhode Island Office of the Attorney General; Officer Alex Rosa of the Burrillville Police Department and standardized field sobriety test instructor; Monica Blanchette, substance abuse prevention coordinator for the town of Burrillville; and Matthew Dennison of The Matthew Dennison Charitable Foundation.
“On February 12, 2022, Matthew Dennison and his best friend Kevin MacDonald were involved in a motor vehicle accident. The two were struck head-on by an impaired driver. Matthew was airlifted to Rhode Island Hospital where he used his incredible strength and mental willpower to fight for his life for four long weeks. Matthew passed away surrounded by his loving family on March 10, 2022. The Matthew Dennison Charitable Foundation continues his legacy by promoting student athletics, leadership, education, and community outreach,” notes a write up on the foundation, which gives back to the community, “by providing college scholarships, and hockey-based assistance to individuals and organizations in need, and to provide support to victims of senseless DUI-related tragedies,” according to the organization’s website.
The Tori Lynn Andreozzi Foundation, “works to continue the spirit, philanthropic attitude and generosity of Tori Lynn.”
“Her Foundation was born out of a desire to honor Tori and her pay-it-forward attitude by empowering people to make good choices, protect other families from the devastating consequences of poor decision-making and, for those whom it can’t protect, tries to make a difficult journey easier,” according to the foundation’s website.