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Learning from a tragedy
Inmate teaches others about the consequences of drunk driving
102108 CHRIS SANDY 1Web
Chris Sandy recounts his experience after causing the death of two people in an alcohol-related accident. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff
     A party. Four drinks. A bad decision. Two lives lost.
     Two families scarred forever. One family lost two beloved members, while the other family lost aspects of a normal relationship with a young man who is their brother, son, grandson.
     That young man, Chris Sandy, lost his freedom. But, he told a group of young people Wednesday, he lost much more than that.
    Heath Browning, coordinator of the Bulloch County Drug Free Communities Support Program, introduced Sandy to the crowd at Ogeechee Technical College Wednesday. Sandy had already spoken to young citizens at Southeast Bulloch High School and the Boys and Girls Club, and spoke afterward to Statesboro High School students.
     The programs, brought to the area by Browning with the support and help of Bulloch County Sheriff's Sgt. Todd Mashburn and other local law enforcement, are part of a commitment Sandy made to help prevent others from making the same mistakes he did by driving drunk and killing an elderly couple in 2000.
     "Every time I hear Chris Sandy speak, it's a very powerful message he sends out," he said.
Sandy received a 13-year prison sentence for vehicular homicide by DUI, followed by 17 years of probation.   He is up for parole in 2010, but if he is denied, he will serve until 2014.
Sandy walked onstage wearing his prison uniform and introduced himself, telling the crowd he wrote letters asking for permission to do this "to prevent someone else from making the same choice I did.
     "I am here for one reason," he said. "To make sure what happened to me never happens to one of you."
     Sandy talked about attending a party near his home outside of Atlanta. He was 22, of legal drinking age, and had four alcoholic drinks at a party. Then, friends invited him to come to another party, so he and a friend named Jessie climbed into Sandy's car and took off.
     They were on a country road, with a posted 35 miles per hour limit, but they were "laughing and having a good time" and wanted to get to the party quickly. Jessie, whose last name Sandy did not mention, apparently felt Sandy was going too fast because he put his seat belt on, laughing at the time, Sandy said.
Sandy passed what he felt was a slow-moving van in front of him and slammed into a car that was making a left turn into a driveway. The impact shattered the other car, splitting it into two pieces. The passenger, an elderly lady, was killed instantly.
     The driver, her husband, was airlifted to a hospital with Sandy, but the older man died. Jessie was saved because of his seat belt.
     When investigators searched Sandy's car, they photographed the speedometer, which stuck in place upon impact; Sandy was driving at least 77 miles per hour when he hit the elderly couple's car.
     "I was 22 years old," he said. "I was trying to have fun ... I made a choice that I will definitely regret for the rest of my life," he said.
     Chris Sandy's life, as well as the lives of his friends, his family, and the friends and families of the two innocent people he killed, were changed forever because he made the choice to drink and drive, he said.
He told how he lay on the side of the road, right leg dislocated, bleeding, drifting in and out of consciousness, an officer asking him questions. He lied about having been drinking, but then he heard someone shout "There's a fatality on the scene ..."
     Sandy was stunned. "I kept thinking I can't believe something like this has happened. I kept hoping I could close my eyes and everything would go away. I think it's clear ... nothing has gone away."
Every day Sandy is reminded of how his decision affected him and others. His blood alcohol level was .14 that night.
     "These were somebody's grandparents," he said. "They were really good people."
     His own grandmother never knew he was in prison, he said. He has seen her only once in the eight year he has been behind bars - at his own father's funeral.
     Sandy showed emotion as he described the last visit his father paid him at prison. He said his father bought him an armload of snacks from the machines as a sort of substitute Thanksgiving meal and he said he enjoyed everything as he ate with his family.
     Ten minutes after his family left, however, Sandy's father died of a massive heart attack.
Sandy also spoke of how his incarceration, a result of a foolish decision to drive drunk, affected his relationship with his little sister, his friend Jessie, and his girlfriend who visited him regularly for four years after he went to jail before she asked him for her freedom to move on.
     "This choice I made did not just affect my life," he said. "It affected everyone around me. God knows what it did to the victims' family."
     He said he could not look at the victims' family in court, and when he tried to apologize for his actions in the courtroom, "all of them were crying so hard ... I felt everything I said was so completely meaningless because it could not change what happened."
     Several in the audience asked Sandy questions about his life in jail and how he hoped his speeches to young people would make a difference.
     "What I am doing right now, I am dedicating my life to," he said, adding he will continue after he is released fro prison. "I want people making choices they won't have to regret. Live with no regrets, please."
     Anyone interested in scheduling an appearance by Sandy can contact Browning at jbrowning@bulloch.k12.ga.us, or by calling (912) 764-1526 or (912) 682-5618.
     The Bulloch County Drug Free Communities Support Program is federally funded, but Browning uses a Bulloch County Board of Education email address because of his organization's partnership with local education.

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