Tragedy turns sister into advocate against distracted driving

By Chelbi Mims
April 16, 2012

On June 1, 2011 Angela Donato, graduate assistant in Enrollment Management office, and her family got a heart wrenching call that would change their life forever. Her sister Toni Donato-Bolis who was nine months pregnant was in a fatal car accident a mile from their home in Washington Township, NJ. The driver that hit her sister car was distracted from putting information into his GPS and veered from his lane and missed two cars in front of her sister’s car and crashed into Donato-Boils’ vehicle head on. She was on the phone hands free with her mother at the time of the accident and told her she was in a terrible crash. Their mother, other sister, Annette Donato, and Angela were the first to arrive on the scene of the accident. Angela gathered all the details of the accident and Annette was making calls to family members telling people to go to the hospital.

“When they were finally able to pull her out of the car her big rock solid belly was jello like and I knew there was no way that baby was surviving.” Donato said.

The day before the accident Angela went to the OBGYN with her sister and they heard the heartbeat of the baby and were excited about the birth of her sister’s second child.

“I like to call that my last actual day with her. From seeing her the day before and seeing her after the accident was like night and day,” Donato said.

At their viewing Toni held the baby, RJ, in her arms. He had on a christening outfit.

“We were so excited when we found out it was a boy. They picked two names, if it was a girl they planned to name her Zoey and if it was a boy, Ryan Jeffery. He was beautiful.” Donato said.

Today, Angela works in Enrollment Management and speaks to high school students about the dangers of distracted driving. She and her family have started a foundation called the Toni Donato-Bolis and Baby RJ foundation. The foundation was founded four months ago with the IRS and her first presentation was Feb. 10 at Clearview Regional High School in South Jersy. She then spoke at Washington Township high school which is where all the Donato sisters attended high school.

“I was in the Philadelphia Inquirer and the article that was written gave my personal information and all these schools have contacted me and it shows that it’s something great that I have started here.” Donato said.

The foundation is in the process of getting off the ground.

“Our goal is to become the next Susan G Komen,” Donato said.

When Donato arrives at the schools she shows a 10 minute video then talks about her sisters story. She tells the students that she is not telling them this story to scare them but to make them aware that their eyes and ears need to be focused on the road when driving. She then has the students sign a pledge and brings two posters of her sister so the students can put a face with a name.

Donato’s work has really transformed lives of many high school and college students. She was recently honored at the Statehouse in Trenton by the Women’s and Children’s Committee.

“I was one out of 12 women in the state of NJ for women who make a difference,” Donato said.

The commuters living and learning community on campus reached out to Donato and set up a distracted driving awareness table in Jazzman’s Café and Bakery on April 11 and 12. Donato will also be speaking at a distracted driving rally at Cabrini later this month.

Toni Donato, in the middle, was nine months pregnant when she died in a fatal car accident by a distracted driver.


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Chelbi Mims

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