Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Drunk driving tale hits home with Bloomingdale students

Matthew Durrell, 35, spoke at Bloomingdale High School on Thursday. In 1995, he drove drunk and killed three friends.

ERNEST HOOPER | Times

Matthew Durrell, 35, spoke at Bloomingdale High School on Thursday. In 1995, he drove drunk and killed three friends.

This speech was different.

Matthew Durrell had looked DUI offenders in the eye and warned them about consequences. At meetings sponsored by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, he had urged them not to make the kind of mistakes that landed him in prison.

At high schools, he had told teens bad choices can ruin families and kill friends, like his three friends who died when he spun out into a tree during a drunken joyride.

But when Durrell, 35, stepped before students at Bloomingdale High Thursday morning to again offer his cautionary tale, everything was different. For the first time in 17 years, he returned to his school, the place where he struggled in class but succeeded in the halls as a fun-loving party guy.

This is where he satisfied his need for attention by doing drugs and selling them. This is where he returned after that horrific Mother's Day weekend in 1995 wearing a back brace — and guilt.

This is where he turned to coach Scot Tipton a year later in the weight room, told him he was going to prison and walked home never to return to Bloomingdale High.

Until Thursday.

"It's surreal," Durrell said after his presentation. "It's something to be back here. Usually, I don't miss a beat, but I got choked up a couple of times today."

The effect on the students seemed just as significant. When Durrell shared how he crashed his uncle's Toyota Supra on S Dover Road, killing Alan Vantine, Frank Ildefonso and Jill Cook, the students murmured and nodded, familiar with the rural road that's just miles from their campus.

As principal Sue Burkett noted, this wasn't some stranger from another city. This was a Bloomingdale Bull who had lived in the same world they live in today.

After his speech, the students flocked to Durrell, thanking him for the inspiration he provided by reliving the pain of that night and the choices that forever altered his life and the lives of four families.

"It was inspiring," said Bloomingdale sophomore Isaiah McIntyre, the school's star quarterback.

His story resonated with the kids even though they walked into the gym not knowing they were going to hear from Durrell.

The students gathered for a lecture from Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi about the perils of drinking and driving.

Flanked by photos and poster-sized stories about the crash, Bondi explained how as a young Hillsborough prosecutor, she worked the case — and how her outrage grew when Durrell was spotted drinking beer on a public access cable show that focused on teen parties — after the crash.

"I wanted to bury him under the jail," Bondi said.

Durrell received a 20-year sentence and in the years that followed, Bondi repeatedly spoke to student groups, holding up Durrell as the poster child for what can go wrong when teens believe they're invincible.

When Durrell earned an early release in 2008 after serving 12 years for DUI-manslaughter, he asked to speak to Bondi at a hearing. When she obliged, he hugged her and said, "Thanks, you saved my life."

She soon began to see the man she had vilified for so long in a different light.

Now she has him step from the shadows, surprising students as he moves to the podium to offer his testimony.

Durrell talked not only of how drinking and drugs ruined his early life, but the horrors of prison and how he will never forget about losing his friends and the impact on their families.

Burkett, the principal, said she felt compelled to bring Durrell in even though it meant students would miss class.

"The teacher in me wanted him to have closure," Burkett said.

Durrell, who had told Bondi more than once he wanted to return to Bloomingdale, seemed to receive that closure.

But if you ask the students, Durrell gave more than he received on this particular day.

That's all I'm saying.

Drunk driving tale hits home with Bloomingdale students 09/06/13 [Last modified: Friday, September 6, 2013 4:32pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Man taken into custody after live streaming drive along Clearwater Beach sand

    Public Safety

    CLEARWATER — Clearwater Police took a man into custody Thursday afternoon after, they said, he drove his car over beach chairs and umbrellas along Clearwater Beach and streamed it on Facebook.

  2. Once trapped and wounded, manatee and calf return to the wild

    Wildlife

    NEW PORT RICHEY — The small crowd readied cameras and craned their necks, peering over heads and through bodies to try and catch a glimpse. Brittany Pharel, 10, wanted to see the hulking manatees, a mother and her calf, laid out on blue tarps Thursday along the edge of the Pithlachascotee River.

    Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo's associate veterinarian Lauren Smith, 33, examines the heart rate of a manatee calf named Cottee just before it was released into the waters of the Pithlachascotee River on Thursday. 
Cottee's mother Pascow was released at the same time in New Port Richey. 
The pair became stranded in May and the mother was found wounded. They needed to be rehabilitated before they could be released into open waters. [ALESSANDRA DA PRA  |   Times]
  3. Gov. candidate Chris King: Climate change is biggest threat to Florida's economy

    Blogs

    Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris King today made his case for how economic growth and fighting climate change go hand in hand. His rivals for the Democratic nomination, Gwen Graham, …

    Winter Park businessman Chris King and his family
  4. Editorial: Buckhorn's proposed tax increase is too high for Tampa

    Editorials

    Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn's proposed city budget for 2018 confronts some hard realities of the times. With debt payments looming and another fire station opening in fast-growing north Tampa, the City Council needs to consider raising property taxes, especially with the prospect of another homestead exemption around the …

    Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s proposed city budget for 2018 confronts some hard realities of the times. But it seems overly ambitious, and the City Council should be cautious about raising taxes too much in a single swoop.
  5. The next step in a sex abuse survivor's recovery: Erasing her tattoo

    Health

    TAMPA — Even after 20 years, Sufiyah can't escape the memories of being sexually exploited by gang members as a teenager.

    The tattoo makes it impossible.

    Sufiyah, an aAbuse survivor, prepares to have a tattoo removed  at Tampa Tattoo Vanish  on Thursday. During her teen years, she was sexually exploited by a gang. The tattoo is a mark of her exploiters. 

Tampa Tattoo Vanish is a new tattoo removal business run by Brian Morrison, where survivors of human trafficking get free tattoo removal.  [CHARLIE KAIJO   |   Times