Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

For Largo High, two sobering speakers: attorney general and drunken driver

LARGO

Hundreds of students filed into the Largo High School auditorium, chatting and snickering as their afternoon program began. After a few minutes, the chatting stopped. The laughing stopped. The whole auditorium went silent.

It wasn't just because Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi came to their school and told a story about a 17-year-old from Brandon who drank, drove, crashed and killed three friends.

It wasn't just because Bondi showed them photos of the mangled car, and photos of the three victims, and told them she prosecuted the case herself.

The silence came as Bondi explained that she got to know the drunken driver, Matthew Durrell, after he spent a dozen years in prison.

And then, she invited him on stage.

Students knew they were going to hear from Bondi, but no one told them the program Thursday also included a felon.

Durrell, now 34 and on probation, told students he had been getting into trouble since he became a teenager. He flunked eighth grade, flunked ninth grade, and said he was drinking alcohol and using drugs early on. By 15, he was selling drugs, "and I didn't sell drugs because I needed money, I sold drugs so I could get some attention."

He went out with some friends one night when he was 17 and "got real wasted." After a party in the neighborhood, he drove off in his uncle's car. "We made it 2 miles from my house and we crashed."

He doesn't remember smashing into the tree very well. "But I do remember being in the hospital and having the chaplain tell me, 'All three of your friends died.' None of you want to hear that, believe me."

The 1995 crash killed Alan Vantine, 20, Frank Ildefonso, 19, and Jill Cook, 19, all of Valrico.

But, he admitted, it wasn't his last dumb move. He was released on bail, and went back to school, as a 17-year-old sophomore. Someone videotaped him in a neck brace, drinking beer at a party. Relatives of the victims were horrified. He got a 17-year prison sentence, and lost his driver's license forever. He was released from prison in 2008.

Now, he rides his bike every day to a construction job. Getting a job isn't easy with a felony record, he said.

Durrell said that when he was growing up in Brandon, everyone knew the story of Olympic diving silver medalist Bruce D. Kimball, who drank a dozen beers one night in 1988 and crashed into a crowd of youths in eastern Hillsborough County, killing two and injuring others.

"They used to show us the video every year. I was like, that'll never happen to me. It did."

To the high school students who were buzzing about the homecoming game scheduled for Friday, Durrell said this: "I never went to a homecoming. I never went to a prom. I went to prison out of 10th grade."

After his talk, sophomore Jessica Wallace went up to Durrell and thanked him for speaking. She said she lost a friend in a car crash, and she thought students needed to hear Durrell's story. "It'll open your eyes," she said afterward.

Sophomore Brenda Vargas and junior Itzel Jahuey are president and vice president of the "Live Free" club, which urges students to avoid alcohol, and which promoted Thursday's talk. They're also cousins. And when they heard Durrell discuss the accident, they each put themselves in his place for a minute, and imagined what it would be like if they did something stupid that cost others their lives.

"I won't forget it," Vargas said.

Curtis Krueger can be reached at krueger@tampabay.com

Let's go, Packers!

Attorney General Pam Bondi told the Largo students she's a fan of their football team, even though she graduated from King High in Hillsborough County. The reason: Jason Rodriguez, the son of Largo football coach Rick Rodriguez, works in Bondi's office.

For Largo High, two sobering speakers: attorney general and drunken driver 11/10/12 [Last modified: Monday, November 12, 2012 9:06am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Encounters: Trial by storm for a rookie principal

    K12

    DUNEDIN — When he nodded off to sleep, the hallway lights outside Michael Vasallo's office were on, so the sudden darkness woke him.

    The glow of his desk phone dimmed.

    Michael Vasallo, right, the first-year principal at Dunedin Highland Middle School, talks with the school's head plant operator Clint Case near the back-up generator on campus. The generator failed just as Hurricane Irma passed through Pinellas County, making for a stressful night. The experience made Vasallo long to return to his regular job, educating middle schoolers. [COLEEN WRIGHT   |   Times]


  2. Who is in charge during a hurricane? Hillsborough County and Tampa still can't agree

    Hurricanes

    TAMPA — Who has the authority to order an evacuation during a hurricane?

    Mayor Bob Buckhorn says he has evacuation authority.
  3. Gators rally past Kentucky, streak hits 31

    Blogs

    LEXINGTON, Ky. — For the second week in a row, Florida found itself storming the field in a game that came down to the last second. A 57-yard field-goal attempt by Kentucky kicker Austin MacGinnis came just a few feet short of making history and snapping a 30-year losing streak, as the No. 20 Gators escaped a …

    Florida wide receiver Brandon Powell (4) scores a touchdown during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Kentucky, Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017, in Lexington, Ky.
  4. Pen makes it way too interesting as Rays hang on for 9-6 win

    Blogs

    A couple of home runs provided the news pegs of the night for the Rays, but it was more topical to talk about what nearly happened as they hung on for a 9-6 win over the Orioles.

    Lucas Duda's three-run homer in the third inning was the Rays' record-breaking 217th of the season, as well as his …

  5. An attempt to project what Rays will look like in 2018

    The Heater

    BALTIMORE — We know what the Rays look like this year: a team that had enough talent but too many flaws, in construction and performance, and in the next few days will be officially eliminated from a wild-card race it had a chance to win but let slip away.

    Adeiny Hechavarria, high-fiving Lucas Duda, seems likely to be brought back.