By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO March 3, 2006 The sobering story of four dead teenagers took center stage at Sullivan County BOCES Adult Education Center Wednesday.
Inside Room 222 of the old Monticello Middle School, dozens of visitors listened to a tape recording of one of the late teens singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow while viewing images and items from each young persons life.
They also saw the graphic photos and coverage of the one-car crash that killed Katie Almeter, Rachel Nargiso, Emily Collins and Kevin King in November 2000.
That night, on a road near Colgate University in Hamilton, King and friend Rob Koester, who was driving Kings Jeep Cherokee, picked up a hitchhiking Collins, Almeter and Nargiso.
Koester was drunk, and his passengers paid the ultimate price for it shortly thereafter.
Koester himself, who was sent to prison for vehicular manslaughter and assault, will forever suffer the memory of his tragic actions.
All that was vividly put on display this week through this exhibit, which has travelled the state under the auspices of the Louis Henry Morgan Institute at Union College and SUNY-IT Utica.
Its local showing was made possible by the Democrat, Sullivan County STOP-DWI, Sullivan County BOCES and Mike Preis Insurance.
As Im walking around, its hard not to cry, said STOP-DWI Coordinator Pam Rourke. I think its wonderful and moving.
Its very graphic. Its very moving. And its hard to believe someone isnt going to leave this exhibit without realizing what alcohol can do, remarked Sheriff Michael Schiff.
The new sheriff, who in his time as a State Trooper saw plenty of DWI-related accidents, said this exhibit took the story beyond the two-dimensional pages of newspapers.
It makes the people real, he observed. These were real people with vibrant lives.
That fact wasnt lost on Monticello High School SADD Chapter President Jesse Campanaro and SADD member Meredith Levine.
People think it will never happen to them, said Levine, a senior. I think it sends a message to kids.
That message remains important, added Campanaro, a junior who with his advisors fought successfully to create a SADD chapter at Monti High just this past year.
And he brought with him 15 chapter members to view the exhibit Wednesday.
Weve had tragedies like this in Monticello, he remarked somberly.
Recovery Center Executive Director Ronnie Uss hoped such exposure would stop Sullivan County from suffering through similar accidents again.
These are preventable deaths. Thats the tragedy, she stressed. We have to stop saying silly things like, One or two drinks wont hurt. . . . Its all of our responsibilities . . . not to allow kids to drink and drive.
Democrat Publisher Fred Stabbert III, in welcoming the crowd to the exhibit, shared that feeling.
This is the choir [Im preaching to], he acknowledged, but if we sing loud enough, well make a difference.
The Friends Exhibit will remain in Room 222 of the BOCES Adult Education Center at 22 St. John St. in Monticello until April 10. Admission is free. Hours are 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Friday. For more information, call the Democrat at 887-5200.