Life cut short by driver under the influence

By Laura Van De Pette
November 13, 2003

Don’t take for granted the things closest to your heart.

Cling to them as you would your life, for without them life is meaningless.

Don’t let your life slip through your fingers by living in the past or for the future.

By living your life one day at a time, you live all the days of your life. -Anonymous

Many of you may have noticed the large handmade sign that was posted on the front lawn of Founder’s Hall a few weeks ago; it is a reminder to keep yourself and your friends safe when alcohol is involved. When I saw that sign I was reminded of a personal loss that I recently suffered due to alcohol and the way in which it has changed my perspective on the sanctity of life.

Students may take this week lightly, not giving much thought to what SADD’s foundation is built upon, but if any of you have experienced heartache due to alcohol and drug related accidents than you understand the importance of being aware. For those of you who are fortunate to have never been affected by alcohol and drugs, I hope my personal experience provides insight into the importance of alcohol awareness.

On New Year’s Day of 2003, I, like many people, was at a party with friends and was living in the moment and having a great time. While I was living up the night, a woman only a few years older than I was trying to take back the terror of the night. Around 3 a.m., Laurie Senkow struck James Dougherty as he crossed West Chester Pike in front of his Norwood apartment. Senkow fled the gruesome scene and continued to drive her damaged Firebird with bloodstains on the hood. She arrived at her boyfriend’s apartment and when questioned about the damage, Senkow claimed she had killed a deer. The supposed deer was my 36-year-old cousin.

Senkow left my cousin unconscious with severe wounds on his head as well as several broken bones; he was bleeding profusely just feet from his home. Not only did she fail to drink responsibly, she attempted to cover any evidence with a car wash the following day and new car parts which her dad agreed to buy. Fortunately, an affidavit signed by Senkow’s boyfriend and a description of the damaged firebird by the car wash attendant provided enough evidence for police to pursue Senkow. Hair follicles on the hood of Senkow’s car matched that of Dougherty. Senkow was on trial in July and is currently serving a 15-month sentence. Although it was a relief to know that the woman who caused my family’s heartache was accounted for, her punishment would never bring my cousin back into my life.

Dougherty spent three days in various hospitals under the supervision of Pennsylvania’s finest neurosurgeons but their efforts could not bring Dougherty to life. Several machines were operating to breathe for him and Dougherty would remain in a vegetative state until Jan. 3, 2003 when he died.

My cousin’s death was a tragedy to my family and left all of us questioning the role we were to play in the world. I never thought much about my family and the time we spent together. Although since my cousin’s death I value the time I spend with the people I love most. My life and the way I value it, has changed dramatically as a result of an accident that could have easily been avoided had alcohol not been involved. The woman who killed my cousin has had to accept her irresponsibility and reflect on how she destroyed the life of a young man and forever changed the lives of his loving family. The death of my cousin has broken my heart but has also taught me to enjoy each day for what it is worth. Life is full of small blessings that we look past everyday of our lives.

The purpose of this story is not to preach about responsible drinking and designated drivers, rather to spawn a new way of looking at each day. I hope of all you realize how lucky you are to be alive. Give respect to your life and enjoy what it has to offer regardless of how small a blessing your day may offer.

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Laura Van De Pette

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