- FUN FEATURES
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Donna Jenner's life changed forever one sunny autumn morning in October 2007.
On that day, in Wolcott, Jenner was preparing for work when she received a call from her son, Anthony, to let her know that school had been canceled for the day. A water main had broken and the building was being repaired.
Anthony and his sister Jessica had driven to school in Anthony's car, and were on their way to eat breakfast and then head home.
Suspecting that he and Jessica would have friends over the house later that day, Anthony asked Jenner to leave him some money in case the group wanted to order Chinese food, prompting Jenner to joke with her son that he was already worried about lunch before even eating breakfast.
“I love you,” Jenner remembers her son saying, before he hung up the phone.
It was the last time she ever spoke with him.
Anthony and Jessica Apruzzese were killed only a few hours later during a horrific accident that took their lives and the life of another friend they had picked up on their way back from breakfast. It was a tragedy that shook the small town of Wolcott to its very foundation and threw Jenner's world into turmoil, from which she admits it has not returned.
“You know how they say that time heals all wounds? They lied. It doesn't. The pain I felt on that day has stayed the same since then,” Jenner admitted.
On Thursday, May 12, Jenner came to Cheshire High School to speak with students about the dangers of reckless driving. It wasn't just about driving while intoxicated, she explained. Instead, it was about ensuring that teenagers take driving as seriously as is necessary, in order to avoid the type of calamity that destroyed her family.
“The decisions you make, they don't just affect you,” Jenner told more than 100 students at CHS. “You'll be gone, but the rest of us, we'll be left behind.”
Jenner is a part of the group called IMPACT, made up of individuals who have either lost loved ones due to accidents or been injured in an accident themselves. The stories don't all center around alcohol and impaired driving. Many of the group members lost loved ones because drivers were distracted and lost control of their vehicles.
The point, Jenner stated, is to remind students that driving is serious business, and that any misstep could lead to injury or fatality.
“Why are so many teens killed?” asked Jenner, after informing the students that the leading cause of death for teenagers was car accidents. “Inexperience, inexperience, inexperience.”
CHS Principal Kevin Ryan told students that the story they would hear from Jenner was meant to get them to think more clearly when making decisions.
“It's not just about drinking and driving,” he said. “It's about making good choices.”
Jenner's presentation was essentially a painstaking, gut-wrenching rehash of the day that saw her two children killed. The presentation was so powerful, Ryan warned, that some students might have to leave if they became too emotional, something several students were forced to do before Jenner had finished.
According to Jenner, the last she knew, Anthony, 17, and Jessica, 14, were safe and heading back from breakfast that day. Consequently, she left for work.
Before she had even arrived at her job, however, she received word from a friend that Anthony and Jessica had been involved in an accident. Racing to the site, she found a chaotic scene, with emergency personnel swarming around and teenage classmates of Anthony and Jessica milling about.
Not knowing the extent of the crash, Jenner parked her car and began to run towards where it appeared the accident had taken place.
“I'll remember to this day hearing voices yelling out 'it's the mother, it's the mother,'” Jenner recalled.
Though Jenner stated she could not go into detail about the accident because of a pending lawsuit with one of the other drivers involved, she explained that her son Anthony had been driving along a stretch of road when he came across another vehicle, in the opposite lane, towing a boat. Somehow, Anthony and Jessica's vehicle hit the side of the boat trailer, which was enough to force their car into the opposite lane and into oncoming traffic.
A truck then slammed into the driver's side of the vehicle. During the presentation, Jenner showed a video that contained pictures from the day of the accident, and one such photo showed the truck that struck her son's car had done so with so much force the driver's side of his vehicle had all but evaporated.
Jenner also related how one of her son's friends, Joey, who had been with a group of classmates less than a mile away when the accident occurred, was one of the first on the scene, and the first to see her children dead in the car.
“Joey said that Jessica's head was out the window and that her hair was blowing in the wind,” said Jenner. “He said it looked like she was sleeping. He said she looked like an angel.”
“Anthony was laying across her lap,” Jenner continued. “When Joey tried to take their pulse he didn't get anything.”
However, the friend in the back seat was still alive when Joey arrived, Jenner related. The two remained together, waiting for help to come, Joey trying to comfort the friend, only to watch her die.
“He didn't know who she was, but he had to watch her die right there in front of him,” Jenner explained.
Jenner had been told her children were dead upon arriving but could not believe it was true until they were actually removed from the vehicle.
“I had just seen Jessica and Anthony bounding out of the house that morning,” she remembered. “How could they be dead?”
However, when the children were finally extricated, the medical examiner came in to speak with her.
“I don't remember what he said, really,” Jenner admits. “I do remember one thing, though. He told me that, if I wanted to see them again, I would have to go to Farmington. There isn't a hospital in Farmington, but there is a morgue.”
Jenner went on to explain the painful atmosphere at the funeral, attended by so many that there was a three-hour waiting period for many in line at the wake. She also related how, even more than three years later, her life doesn't resemble what it had been.
“My house used to be filled with music and noise,” she told the audience. “Now, you can hear a pin drop.”
Later, in talking about how difficult it is to relive the death of her children over and over again for each presentation, she admitted that what keeps her going is the sense that she is doing some good.
“Seeing the reaction of the kids, that's what this is all about,” she said. “I think hearing my story, and the stories of the IMACT members, makes it very real for them. That's how you get through (the presentation).”
Ryan also hoped the students would carry with them the important message of the program, because he knows what happens when they don't.
“I am friends with a principal who had a student die at his school in an accident and I remember him telling me that it was one of the toughest days of his life,” Ryan recalled. “When I heard him say that, I thought to myself, 'I never want to be that principal.' In less than a year, I was that principal, and I would be for three straight years.”
“I don't ever want to be that principal again,” he told the students.