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Drinking and Driving

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NH Public TV
New Hampshire
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The following are comments from some of the key players in the documentary and reflections by a group of college students at St. Anselm College after a presentation of Just One Night.

Judge Edwin Kelly
Tom Boyle
The Colgan Family
Prosecutor John Stephen
Student Reactions

John Stephen, prosecutor in Tom Boyle’s case.
“For ten years, I was a prosecutor in the State of New Hampshire.  Five years were spent at the county level and five years at the State level.  As an assistant attorney general for the State of New Hampshire, I was in charge of the State DWI-vehicular homicide unit.  This unit either prosecuted or assisted in the prosecution of all DWI-related fatality cases.  In this role, I met many families of DWI victims, and worked closely with law enforcement in their efforts of deterring impaired driving.  One of the things I realized early on is that the State, and the country for that matter, has a serious problem with substance abuse, especially impaired driving.

In 1993, I worked closely with the legislature in adopting the .08 law.  We also passed a zero tolerance law for underage drivers.  We have many of the strictest laws on the books.  However, the number of DWI arrests each year keeps climbing.  This problem is a problem that we all must deal with, and it happens at alarming rates in every state.  The Tom Boyle story only reemphasizes the notion that it can happen to many of the people we love and trust.  Impairment is the issue, not drunken stupor.  Simply put, we need to educate our youth that zero tolerance is the only way to guard against this tragedy. 

I have always been a proponent on getting prosecutors out of the courtroom and into the communities where the need exists.  The consequences of DWI need to be emphasized to all members of our society by all the players, including the police, prosecutor, defense attorney and defendant.  This combined message will eventually sink in.  In any event, here's how Just One Night all started and how a small segment
of the above players can make a difference in spreading the message of zero tolerance when it comes to impaired driving.

In April of 1997, Trooper Rod Forey came to visit me at my office in
Concord, N.H.  Trooper Forey had recently met with Tom Boyle at the State Prison.  Trooper Forey asked me if there was any way that Tom could get out of prison for a day to speak with business groups and spread the anti-DWI message to the segment of the population that he was very familiar with. 

With the prom season coming up, I was spearheading an effort to promote an anti-DWI awareness in high schools throughout the State.  The program that we were putting on was a mock DWI trial that was sponsored by the Governor's Highway Safety Office.  With presentations planned for schools in May, the timing of Trooper Forey's visit to me could not have been better. 

I asked Trooper Forey to ask Tom if he would be willing to speak to high school students instead of business people.  After Tom agreed, we got together for a few meetings at the prison and eventually came up with the program "Just One Night." 

I remember my first meeting with Tom since seeing him taken away in shackles after his sentencing hearing. We both shook hands and greeted each other as friends normally do.  It was nothing unusual and I was struck by Tom's desire to present his story.  He never asked for any consideration to be given to his sentence which made working together much easier. 

I also remember an unusual feeling I had when I shook Tom's hand that day.  On the one hand, I was a hard line prosecutor always recommending stiff penalties for anyone who causes a death or injury while impaired.  Tom was no exception.  On the other hand, I thought about the fact that Tom and I graduated from the same college, had similar upbringings, and believed in many of the same things. 

Tom isn't an evil-minded person, nor did he actually intend to cause the death of Brian Colgan.  Could his story have been mine?  Could it be yours?  Those were my thoughts - thoughts that had never entered my mind during any prosecution.  The sad fact is: many people I know and respect could be caught in this dilemma. 

I’ll close with a few thoughts from some of the young people who have seen Tom’s presentation.  They give me hope that when the message is delivered, it can get through.

"This program was one of the most effective ways of getting to teenagers who think things like this can't happen to them because there is a false belief that only "bad people" go to jail."

"Don't drink and drive is a much more powerful message when spoken by someone who has had their life destroyed as a result.  To see someone in prison clothes, and know after the speech you'll go home, and they will go back to a cell brings to light the harsh reality that it only takes one mistake to throw your life away.  That night I went home and felt blessed that I was free to do as I choose.”