Father of teen charged in fatal crash urges students to put away the phones while driving

RUMFORD — The father of an Oxford teenager facing manslaughter charges in the deaths of two other teens urged students Wednesday to put away their cellphones while driving.

Terry Karkos/Sun Journal

Earl Lowe, right, of Paris shares with an assembly of parents and students Wednesday at Mountain Valley High School in Rumford the emotional perspective of being the father of a teen charged with killing two teen friends in a drunken driving accident in January.

Terry Karkos/Sun Journal

As some of the 22 "living dead" students simulating victims of drunken-driving accidents weep on stage Wednesday at Mountain Valley High School in Rumford, Dave Blouin of Meader and Sun Funeral Home reads a letter written by Kim Gautreau-Perry of Andover to her living-dead daughter, Karissa Anastasio.

Terry Karkos/Sun Journal

Mountain Valley High School student William Cunningham struggles with emotions Wednesday while listening to the father of Kristina Lowe talk about her accident in January that took the lives of two teenage passengers.

Terry Karkos/Sun Journal

During an assembly for parents and students on Wednesday morning at Mountain Valley High School in Rumford, Michele Cushman of Rumford shares the reality of making bad decisions that lead to drinking and driving and fatal accidents by talking about the death of her daughter, Rebecca Cushman, on Aug. 20, 2011, in a drunken-driving accident in Wisconsin.

Terry Karkos/Sun Journal

Mountain Valley High School students portraying 22 "living dead" victims of drunken-driving accidents walk into the auditorium on Wednesday morning in Rumford, filing past the portraits of three fellow classmates whose simulated funerals they were attending during an Every 15 Minutes program assembly.

Terry Karkos/Sun Journal

Dan Gauvin, right, of S.G.Thibault Funeral Home and Dave Blouin of Meader and Son Funeral Home in Rumford wheel a casket into the  Mountain Valley High School auditorium Wednesday morning during a funeral dramatization. An assembly was held for parents and students on the dangers of drunk and distracted driving.

As part of a two-day event at Mountain Valley High School, Earl Lowe gave an emotional speech to students and parents on the dangers of drunk and distracted driving.

Police say Kristina Lowe, 19, was driving under the influence of alcohol, speeding and text-messaging when she crashed a Subaru sedan in January. Rebecca Mason, 16, and Logan Dam, 19, were killed instantly.

Earl Lowe is a former crash investigator for the Maine State Police.

For four years, he reconstructed fatal accidents and conducted vehicular autopsies on vehicles involved in fatal accidents. It was his job to find mechanical problems or evidence that could put someone in jail for crimes committed.

Now, in a macabre twist, he finds himself on the flip side of that. His daughter faces up to 95 years in jail, if convicted.

On the night of Jan. 7, according to a police affidavit, Kristina Lowe was driving 75 mph, had been drinking and smoking pot and was texting on her cellphone when she crashed into a stand of trees on Route 219 in West Paris.

“The vehicle left the highway and went into a group of trees roof first,” Earl Lowe said. “It was a very violent accident.”

He said Kristina lost a vertebra and an inch and a half of height, and required extensive surgery at Maine Medical Center to rebuild her back. She must wear a full body brace and cannot stand long without suffering extreme pain, he said.

“She will never be rid of these and it was all for one bad decision,” her father said. “Peer pressure is what convinced my daughter to get behind the wheel that night. Her friends pressured her and pressured her into doing what she did.”

Published reports have indicated that Lowe made several attempts to leave an underage drinking party that night, even after her keys were taken from her by friends concerned that she was too intoxicated to drive.

Earl Lowe urged teens in that situation to get out of it and, if they've been drinking, to call someone rather than drive or ride home with someone who is equally under the influence.

“I'm pretty sure I can speak for every parent out there," he said. "They would much rather get up at 3 in the morning and come and get you than to go down to the hospital and identify you.”

He also spoke of the loss of Mason and Dam.

“I definitely can't express the proper sympathy to the parents of the children who were lost due to my daughter's accident,” he said. “They will never have their children back. All they have now is a tombstone that they go and talk to, and I feel guilty because I can still talk to my daughter.

“They can't and they never will again and my heart just pours for them. I have the worst mixed emotions I've ever had in my life,” Earl Lowe said.

He urged teenagers to keep their cellphones in their pockets while driving or to lock them in their glove compartments.

“This little black box can kill you,” he said. “These are the most dangerous things in the world when they're combined with a motor vehicle going down the road. There's just no way you can pay attention to that phone and still pay attention to your driving.”

Another speaker, Michele Cushman, talked about her daughter, Rebecca Cushman, 21, was killed Aug. 20, 2011, in a drunken-driving accident in Wisconsin.

Ninety minutes before the accident, Michele Cushman talked with her daughter on the phone and realized she had been drinking. She urged her not to drive and not to get in the car with someone who had been drinking.

“I know, Mom. I won't,” Rebecca Cushman twice told her.

Her voice quavering, Michele Cushman said she still remembered the horrifying  screams of Rebecca's father when she called him after learning of their daughter's death.

“The decision that she made to get in that car with alcohol, not wearing her seat belt and the car speeding, were decisions that she made,” Michele Cushman said. “She knew that it wasn't right.”

She added, “You cannot go through life saying, 'This isn't going to happen to me.' I know that she did and it cost her her life.”

Afterward, sophomore Katie Puiia, 16, of Rumford, said she was profoundly affected.

“I came into it half-serious, not so serious as I am now about it," she said.

"The effects of it are so much more intense than I thought they were going to be," she said. "Like, I used to text and drive sometimes ... but after today, I'm done. It's so scary.”

tkarkos@sunjournal.com

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Comments

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

These posts are all excellent

These posts are all excellent and relevant, Mr. Lowe's message was dynamic, but the bottom line is, no matter what you tell them or show them (examples or otherwise), kids are going to do what they're going to do, either by their own moral compasses, or from pressure from their peers. And sadly, there isn't a damn thing parents can do about it. It's a lottery; some of us get lucky, some of us suffer.

Jack Kaubris's picture

Thank you

Thank you to these speakers. It must have been incredibly hard for Mr Lowe and Mrs Cushman to relive these tragedies, but I have heard that they have had a big impact on the students.

Robert McQueeney's picture

I applaud Mr Lowe for

I applaud Mr Lowe for speaking on this subject. It is very interesting to note that he is a crash investigator, who often has to reassemble the events leading to the accident.

But I am a bit bewildered here. Why does he say that peer pressure caused her to drive, when published police reports show that peer pressure was against her driving, people forcibly taking her keys away, and she went back and got them? And the title of this article, blaming the little black boxes?? Somehow, I don't see the cell phone as the major reason for this crash. A factor? Certainly. But it was the drinking and pot that caused the major impairment. Yes, the texting took her eyes off the road. But peer pressure was against her even driving.

I suspect that if you remove any one of these factors, the outcome of the evenings events is much different. Yes, it was a combination of things all conspiring to cause this accident. But let's never forget, all these actions were deliberately done by Kristina Lowe. She chose to drink. She chose to smoke pot. While sober, she never made arrangements for when she would end up impaired. She chose to drive when many were trying to take her keys and telling her not to. She also chose to speed and text. All actions she chose to do.

And never forget, two people are dead because of her actions. Rebecca Mason, 16, and Logan Dam, 19. Never forget their names. They do not live on. The person who did everything that killed them does get to live on.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Excellent post, Robert. You

Excellent post, Robert. You are 'spot on' on all counts.

Veronica Child's picture

Out of context.

Mr. McQueeny, I think you're getting the wrong idea from this article. You would've had to be there and listen to Mr. Lowe to understand the full context. While the Sun Journal tries to report a full story, it is just impossibe to get the whole thing in one article. One of the MANY things that Mr. Lowe talked about was cell phones. When he took his cell phone out of his pocket, held it up and alluded to 'this little black box can kill you'... it was impactful and the kids 'got it'.
As for the peer pressure he spoke of toward his daughter that night. He wasn't laying blame but more explaining all the aspects of making a bad choice in general. He couldn't get into details because his daughter had recently been indicted. There were 3 reasons for the crash (aside from the obvious bad decision to get in the car in the first place) and they were; alcohol/drugs, texting and speed. So the phone use was just as detrimental.
Mr Lowe wasn't there to plead his daughters case. He was there as a Dad who's going through hell because of stupid decisions his daughter made. Numerous times during his talk, he would go back to the guilt and sorrow he felt for the other families. Please don't judge him on this article alone. I'm sure it took alot for him to do this and it is much appreciated.
The kids in the car with her will never be forgotten. But let's not forget that they made bad decisions too. They got into the car with a driver that they knew was impaired, which is another topic that we're trying to teach our kids about. Everything about that accident is tragic and needs to be learned from.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I am the parent of one of the students who took part in the Every 15 Minutes program. The message that I want my son to get is; If you're drinking, please call me for a ride. If you need a ride, please don't get into a car with someone that has been drinking. Please realize that even writing a 4 letter text takes your attention away from driving long enough to kill you.
I'm thankful that we had this program in our school and I'm thankful for all the speakers who took time to teach my son important things.

Kevin Saisi's picture

...

I am glad to see that the program they use today is more powerful than those used when I was in school.

I absolutely agree!

This program (not specifically the exact curriculum) is offered at a large number of schools across the State of Maine. Some schools such as Edward Little in Auburn, only offer the program every other year as a way to cut expenses, as it is very expensive to run a program like this. A large number of schools will do mock accidents, which can again be VERY expensive as they really get into them.

But though money is often a problem, I will never discredit these programs. As another person said, if they save one life they will have been worth it.

Fred Stone's picture

All Schools

This program should be presented at every school in the state, if it saves one life it will be worth it.
Congratulations to all involved for such a powerful performance.

Sandra Coulombe's picture

It can be easy as a parent to

It can be easy as a parent to want to believe your kids will never experiment with drugs or alcohol much less drive while doing so but the bottom line is that most do experiment with one or both at some point. You might get lucky, your kids might be the ones that don't but then again they might just be the ones who do. It is far better to have an open honest line of communication with them and an understanding that if they do, they call for a ride home, no lectures, no punishment for giving in to the peer pressure, just a safe ride home. Some people believe that is tantamount to approving of the kids drinking or drug use but the reality is if the kids do not feel safe from punishment and lectures they will NOT call you.
You also have to make sure you are setting the example and not driving while under the influence and that includes prescriptions for pain meds, muscle relaxers or anything else that causes drowsiness and reduces reflexes. Do as I say not as I do does not work when dealing with teenagers it just makes them see you as a hypocrite to be ignored. So if you find yourself in a situation of being away from home and under the influence give your teen a call for a safe ride home. Set the right example!
The same goes for those cell phones put your own away and ignore any incoming text while driving it is just as dangerous for adults to text and drive as it is for teens. Make it visible that this is what you do and what you expect them to do. Then if you catch them texting while driving take away the license and the cell phone for a nice long time. They will survive without them. They just might not if using them irresponsibly.

Veronica Child's picture

We are a strong community.

We have had our share of heartbreak and then some in this community. We hurt when our neighbors hurt. We cry with our neighbors when they cry. We support each other when the unthinkable happens. So it makes sense that we educate our children on the terrible consequences of bad decisions as a community. And in the end, we let them know how truly loved they are and that life without them would be unbearable.
I am thankful to the dedicated group that pulled this program together. The amount of time and planning that went into this astounds me. I am thankful; that Mr. Lowe spoke to our kids in such a powerful way, that Dr. Hopperstead took the time to give his very insightful point of view, that I know women as strong as Michelle who eloquently touched so many hearts today.
I am the proud Mom of one of the amazing students that were chosen for this program. My hope is that it has the intended impact.

Kathy Emery's picture

This Does NOT need to happen again!

Parents, Friends, Grand-Parents, Aunts, Uncles, this does not ever need to happen again. Talk with your children! Talk with the so called "adults" in your family. This needs to stop! Even one death due to Texting, drinking driving is too damn many! I know the father and the grandfather of this teen. They are great people....doing their best to raise their children. Let us get off our asses and let our voices be heard! No one....No child, No teenager, No adult needs to pass so senselessly! This needs to Stop NOW and it stops with all of us getting involved and being there for our kids if they need ride or any one ...you are sound asleep on a Friday or Saturday night....too damn bad....get your asses out of bed and be there to pick those kids up....encourage them to call, implore them to call, demand that they call......have a contract with them to call......it can and will save their lives. My boys lost one of there best friends a little more than a year ago. I attended that funeral with them and many, many others. I can not even begin to describe the pain that David and I felt inside at this loss. For God sakes people....get up off your asses and be there for your children.....they are our future!!!!

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