Four minutes before crashing into a utility pole that claimed his life, 21-year-old Garrett Norton sent a text reading “He’s shot. We’re going to die…Anyways nice knowin ya.” However, Norton was not texting and driving; he wasn’t driving at all. He was the passenger in the car of former Keene State College Student, Equinox Photo Editor and his friend Kyle Bailey.
Bailey’s blood alcohol concentration was two times over the legal limit.
According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, (MADD) every 53 minutes someone dies in a drunk driving accident. In 2014, 30 percent of fatal drunk driving crashes had drivers who were between the ages of 21 and 24, according to the National Highway Safety Administration.
Kyle Bailey does not want more students to end up as one of these statistics or in his shoes. On March 9, 2016, he was sentenced to four years in jail. Bailey will serve two-and-half years in jail on the homicide charge, followed by another year-and-a-half in jail, according to the Berkshire Eagle. Bailey will serve this sentence at the Berkshire House of Corrections in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.
The Equinox attempted to contact Bailey this past week through the Berkshire County House of Corrections, but was unable to speak with him over the phone. However, before his sentencing he reached out to Equinox advisor and his former professor Julio Del Sesto, and said he wanted his story told.
“I worked with Kyle for four years and watched him grow into an excellent photographer. He’ll have to put his camera down for the next four years as he pays for his mistake. I’ve met few students that are as kind and compassionate as Kyle, and I know he will use this experience to teach others,” Del Sesto said.
Although Bailey’s accident did not occur in Keene, the college campus is filled with students of legal drinking age, and, according to Coordinator of Alcohol and Other Drugs Prevention Michelle Morrow, students should take action when someone has had too much to drink.
“There’s something called bystander intervention. People stepping in and intervening when they are noticing something problematic. Whether it’s someone in your friends group or not if you think that person has had too much to drink and are they going to be driving, really think about a way that you can step in and not have that happen. Look out for each other,” Morrow said.
Morrow said that one of the biggest pieces of advice she stresses to students is to have a plan before they go out drinking.
“If someone is going to be drinking, the plan you make at the start of the night [sober] is going to be a much better plan than the one you might make at the end of the night. Whether that plan is having a designated driver or having a cab number on call, make one because the thing that happens is most people who drink and drive didn’t necessarily intend to do that, because I think most would say it’s not a good thing to do,” Morrow said.
She said that, once someone’s blood alcohol level reaches a certain point, “it really does affect your judgment and decision making so people tend to not think about consequences and things the same way.”
Although not all consequences are as severe as Bailey’s, Keene Police Chief Brian Costa said, “It’s likely and very possible that those consequence are, in many cases, life altering. Drunk driving is a life altering event regardless of if a life was taken or not, like in this case [Bailey’s].”
Costa said that there is no set of circumstances that will make drunk driving okay, and the best thing that can happen is getting arrested.
Costa said Keene Police have been working closely with local high schools as well as the college to provide information to students about the safety hazards surrounding alcohol use.
One thing Costa stressed when speaking with students is how important it is to consider how their actions will affect others. “It’s not just the person making the decision. We ask them to think about the ramifications it has on their family, social network and job. It comes down to making good decisions. It sounds like a cliche, but that’s what it comes down to,” Costa said.
To raise student awareness regarding the effects of alcohol and good decision making, Keene State Greek life organizations will be hosting A Day of Clarity on April 14, on the student center quad.
“The intent is to educate students about sobriety, and all greek members, as well as other students, will sign a pledge to be substance free for the day. I know sometimes people think, ‘Well who cares? It’s only a day,’ but I think it’s more than that. It’s a day for everyone to come together and show each other that you can have fun without alcohol or other substances,” Morrow said.
Although Costa said he was unsure if KPD would be participating in the event, he agreed that change will come from students being role models for each other.
“Be a positive role model for your peers. I’ve worked closely with the college to know that there are many groups that are working toward sobriety and to be involved on campus. Be that positive role model for other students especially the younger students or freshmen that are just coming in,” Costa said. “It’s amazing how one decision can really alter a life, and that is something that I recommend being spoken about. The more it’s spoken about among peers as opposed to adults and teachers and other community leaders sending the message, the more credibility it gets.”
According to the Berkshire Eagle during his sentencing, Bailey said in between sobs that, “I wish there was something I could do to bring Garrett back,” Bailey admitted to using “extremely poor judgment,” which led to the loss of one of his best friends. Bailey said all he could do was ask for forgiveness from Norton’s family and he understood it may not be forthcoming.
Kendall Pope can be contacted at kpope@firstname.lastname@example.org