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‘One Second Everything Changes’

Union College display brings home the reality, heartache of drunken- driving accidents

Saturday, January 9, 2010
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Lisa Savard of Greenfield Center stands near a portrait of her daughter, Joelle DuMoulin, who was killed in an alcohol-related traffic accident in 2002. Joelle’s story is part of the “One Second Everything Changes” exhibit at Union College.
Lisa Savard of Greenfield Center stands near a portrait of her daughter, Joelle DuMoulin, who was killed in an alcohol-related traffic accident in 2002. Joelle’s story is part of the “One Second Everything Changes” exhibit at Union College.

A few seconds.

That’s how long it took for a speeding pickup truck to hit two trees off Angel Road in the Saratoga County town of Corinth and end the life of blue-eyed, red-haired Joelle DuMoulin, at 16.

Hours, weeks, months and years have passed since that time on June 9, 2002, but those seconds are always with Joelle’s mother, Lisa Savard.

“Sometimes more, sometimes stronger and more in the forefront than others,” said Savard, who lives in Greenfied Center. “I was just watching the kids coming through the display, and one of the girls has beautiful red hair. It comes up again.”

‘One Second Everything Changes’

WHERE: Union College, Dyson Hall, first floor of the Nott Memorial

WHEN: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily through Jan. 31

HOW MUCH: Free

MORE INFO: www.union.edu/Resources/Campus/mandeville

The “display” is “One Second Everything Changes,” billed as a forensic exhibit of alcohol-related and impaired-driving crashes in the Capital Region. The presentation opened Thursday at Union College’s Dyson Hall, on the first floor of the Nott Memorial, and runs through Jan. 31.

“One Second,” created by Bethlehem resident Denis Foley, combines facts, photographs and artifacts and introduces people to victims of drunken drivers. The stories may also convince young drivers — and more experienced motorists — to avoid potentially dangerous combinations of alcohol and driving.

“The purpose of the exhibit is to try to change behavior among the target group, which is really young drivers, teenagers and college-aged kids,” said Rachel Seligman, director and curator of Union’s Mandeville Gallery.

“It’s not a preachy thing, it’s not a ‘You should be doing this, you shouldn’t be doing this’ kind of thing, it just tells a story,” Seligman said. “There are facts and artifacts. The artifacts, I think, create a really visceral response. They really cut through to people on an emotional level.”

Ordinary day . . . until

The story of Joelle — an aspiring artist about to complete her junior year at Corinth Central High School — begins during the afternoon of June 8. She and her friend Kailee Messore, 18, left summer jobs at the Surfside Motel in Lake George around 3 p.m. By 7:30, the girls were hanging out with friends. They eventually met friend Christopher Bliss of Porter Corners, who gave them a ride in his truck. Shortly afterward, the girls were at Lake George Bowl, and then back to Joelle home for a change into pajamas. By around 2:45 a.m., Joelle and Kailee were back in the Bliss Chevrolet pickup.

On Angel Road, Bliss figured he could take a curve in the road at 90 mph that most drivers manage at 30 mph. Authorities said the 18-year-old driver had been drinking and smoking marijuana that evening, and was drag-racing at the time of the accident. His truck veered off the road, struck the trees and rolled over twice. DuMoulin was trapped inside the cab and died of her injuries. Bliss and Messore survived.

In addition to time lines, parts of Joelle’s life also are on display. Two bottles of acrylic paint, a thin paint brush, prom favors, two ribbons won for artwork at the Saratoga County Fair, one of the white sneakers she was wearing the night of the crash and a brush full of red hair are all in view. A self-portrait done at age 7 shows a smiling red-haired girl in a green shirt and flared, purple pants. “Hi, my name is Joelle,” reads the cartoon bubble next to the drawing.

A Saratoga Hospital report describing Joelle’s injuries and a newspaper obituary are also on view for the public.

‘I want the message out there’

Savard, who spoke at the “One Second” opening night on Thursday, said it’s difficult to have her daughter’s possessions on display. But she hopes they convince young people not to get involved with drinking and driving.

“I want the message out there,” she said. “I want these kids to walk in here and see the hairbrush and see the shoe that she had on. We took that shoe from the crash site, and I had it in a bag in a closet where I didn’t have to look at it. Coming in, when I went through, I’m not looking at that stuff. I can’t allow myself to look at that stuff right now.”

The exhibit also offers information on Bliss. In 2003, he was convicted in Saratoga County Court on felony charges of reckless endangerment and vehicular assault and sentenced to up to seven years in prison. He was released in December.

Other local accidents and people are part of the exhibit. Sean French, a 17-year-old Ghent boy died in a New Year’s Day accident in Chatham in 2002. Adam Lawas of Canandaigua was 44 when he was struck and killed by a drunken driver Aug. 8, 2006 while jogging along Route 5S in Malta. The driver, Joshua Halse, 21, of Cohoes, had been arrested the previous month on a drunken driving charge. In the Lawas accident, Halse later pleaded guilty in Saratoga County Court to charges of second-degree vehicular manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide and sentenced to up to four years in state prison.

Change in attitude

Foley, a forensic anthropologist who worked as Albany County’s Stop-DWI coordinator from 1981 until 2006, now assembles anti-drunken driving displays and documentary films for the Lewis Henry Morgan Institute, part of the State University of New York’s Institute of Technology at Utica. He believes change will come with alterations in the state’s legal system.

“There has to be quick punishment, there has to be very limited plea-bargaining and people have to realize this is a danger,” Foley said. “People have to perceive this is a major problem.”

Foley has created similar “One Second” exhibits for other parts of New York state. “It puts a regional face on the problem, which is almost of epidemic proportions, drinking and driving by youth,” he said.

Statistics researched for the “One Second” series show that 11,773 people were killed in alcohol-related accidents in the United States during 2008. Each year, about 1,900 people under the age of 21 die in motor-vehicle crashes related to underage drinking; nine out of 10 auto accidents involving teen drivers involve the use of alcohol.

Foley says people can’t just depend on law enforcement to stop people from drinking and driving.

“Individuals can do other things,” he said. “Teenagers should never ride in a car with a friend who is drunk and they should never let that friend drive drunk. If it means taking the keys or disabling the tires, you have to take radical steps.”

Accidents involving kids and alcohol are still happening. Savard feels sorrow for parents and other family members who must deal with days and years that follow.

“When they first find out, they’re in shock,” she said. “You don’t believe, you bargain with yourself to try to convince yourself it’s not happening to you. I had to identify my daughter. All the way to the hospital, I was still trying to convince myself, ‘No, they’ve made a mistake, this can’t possibly be her.’

“I hurt for them,” Savard added. “But there are so many kids this is happening to. It seems the message is being missed somehow.”

 

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