Sunday, December 17, 2017
News Roundup

Drunk driving tale hits home with Bloomingdale students

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.

Comments
Lightning wins at Avalanche with four-goal second period

Lightning wins at Avalanche with four-goal second period

DENVER — The Lightning left for Las Vegas Saturday for the first of four nights in Sin City.But Tampa Bay’s first regret came before it boarded the charter flight; the Lighting lamented making Saturday’s 6-5 win over the Avalanche much more thrilling...
Updated: 4 hours ago

Bucs’ Gerald McCoy, Lavonte David out for Monday’s game vs. Falcons

TAMPA — As if containing All-Pro Julio Jones and the Falcons offense isn’t challenging enough, the Bucs will try to do so Monday night without perhaps their top defensive players, tackle Gerald McCoy and linebacker Lavonte David.On Saturday, Bucs coa...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Trump defends tax plan, proclaims economy set ‘to rock’

Trump defends tax plan, proclaims economy set ‘to rock’

WASHINGTON — Closing in on the first major legislative achievement of his term, President Donald Trump on Saturday defended the Republican tax cut as a good deal for the middle class while boldly suggesting it could lead to explosive economic growth....
Updated: 9 hours ago
Aquarium reopens to divers

Aquarium reopens to divers

Florida Keys News BureauVisitors to Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters dive with among indigenous Keys fish Friday in Marathon. The attraction reopened Friday after closing just before Hurricane Irma hit the Florida Keys on Sept. 10. Although tourism f...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Florida moves to control booming, invasive iguanas

Florida moves to control booming, invasive iguanas

MIAMI — With burrowing iguanas showing up in people’s toilets and damaging expensive sewer lines, Florida wildlife managers are stepping up efforts to control the state’s booming population of the wild, invasive reptiles. The Florida Fish and Wildlif...
Updated: 9 hours ago

Fan helps fund Miami Stadium’s historic marker

MIAMI — For thousands of kids who grew up in Miami, going to the old Miami Stadium in the Allapattah neighborhood was a part of coming of age. Opened on Aug. 31, 1949, with a game between the Miami Sun Sox and Havana Cubans, two Class B Florida Inter...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Florida man sues for $2.8 million fishing tournament prize money

Florida man sues for $2.8 million fishing tournament prize money

OCEAN CITY, Md. — Phil Heasley of Naples caught the fish of his life, but the $2.8 million in tournament prize money got away. Heasley reeled in a 6-foot white marlin last year off Maryland’s coast. But in a sign of how concerned some big money tour...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Romano: Some bullies survive beyond the schoolyard

Romano: Some bullies survive beyond the schoolyard

Sometime soon, members of the Florida House will be asked to consider a solution for bullying in public schools. It’s a dubious idea based on the premise that students should flee their tormenters, and use voucher funds to attend a private school of ...
Updated: 10 hours ago

Two die in head-on crash on Gunn Highway in Odessa

ODESSA — Hillsborough County deputies are investigating a head-on crash on Gunn Highway that killed two and sent a child to the hospital Saturday afternoon.About 12: 45 p.m., Terry Lee Bronschidle, 70, of Tampa was driving his Chevy Traverse south on...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Q&A with Syracuse coach Benoit Groulx about the Lightning’s next generation

Q&A with Syracuse coach Benoit Groulx about the Lightning’s next generation

DENVER — There might be one team in hockey hotter than the Lightning.It is Tampa Bay’s AHL affiliate, Syracuse.The Crunch has won 10 straight after Friday’s victory over Providence. Why is this important? While the AHL is a developmental league, the ...
Updated: 10 hours ago