On a beautiful October 25, 1997 early morning, my Uncle Cary Candella was driving over the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. That weekend Uncle Cary visited our family at the hospital for the birth of his nephew (my cousin), as well as heading back to work; in addition, he had Sunday plans for a fishing trip in Montauk, which he never made it to.
My Uncle was doing the normal and regular thing, driving over the bridge, sober, on the way to work. He was involved in a small fender bender. While checking on the damage, exchanging information and seeing if the other people were okay, he was hit and dragged down the bridge. The driver was a young man with his life ahead of him, heading home drunk from a club. We were unaware of how our lives had been altered by a total stranger. Uncle Cary never would come home again. Although this driver was a stranger to us, he was the last to see my Uncle alive. Cary wasn’t drinking, he was doing the right thing. That did not protect him from being mowed down and murdered by a drunk driver.
The drunk driver served only a few months compared to the years and future memories ripped away from my Uncle. Years and unmade memories were taken away from my family. My father Douglas, Aunt Jen and Uncle Mike will never see their brother again. My grandmother Susan will never see her son again. My cousins and I will never have stories to tell about him, just stories we’ve heard. I always see pictures of my Uncle boating, skiing, any of the adventurous activities we do as a family now, that we will unfortunately never know what it would have been like with him around. Our family will never be the same again. We are reminded every day how fragile life is and how one person’s poor decision can change so many lives forever.
In 2013, I was only a Junior in Tottenville High School. My friends and I started getting our licenses to drive, so this issue of drinking while driving became more relevant than ever for my age group. Seeing that some of my peers truly did not understand the causes and effects of such a senseless mistake was my wake up call to do something about it. Hearing about unnecessary deaths on the news was my push to make a change, I could not sit back and watch any longer. I established a SADD Chapter at Tottenville in order to spread awareness about this issue while involving my classmates in something bigger than ourselves. I reached out to MADD, then my father and I drove to the state office on Long Island and we started working with them from that moment leading up to the present. When we originally met, the only Walk Like MADD in New York was on Long Island, and was raising just over $100,000. In 2014, I helped launch the Inaugural Staten Island Walk Like MADD. In 2017, there are now five Walk Like MADD events in New York State, together raising close to $300,000.
The shadow of the effects of drunk/drugged driving will be with us for our lifetime. Impaired driving is not an accident nor is it a victimless crime. MADD is an important part of survival and healing for victims, their families and friends. The funds raised through Walk Like MADD are the centerpiece of fundraising for an array of programs and services that are offered at no cost to the victims in the most active area of New York State’s DWI/DUI offenses. While services and programs are offered at no cost to the victims, nothing is free.
Jacqueline Candella & Candella/Visconti family