WATERVILLE — Chris Sandy was like many other young men at 22, having fun with friends, going to parties and enjoying life.

That was all about to change as he slammed down four drinks at a party one night and got in his car with a friend, Jesse, to hit another party nearby.

Laughing with Jesse and driving 80 mph along a dark country road, Sandy came upon a white minivan in front of him and decided to pass it. As he did so, he saw a car coming in the opposite direction, preparing to turn into a driveway.

Sandy tried to get back into his own lane, saw a huge gold flash, heard a loud boom — and then everything went black.

When he woke, he could barely breathe. He had no idea what had happened and no idea how he got out of his car, but he started crawling in the road, writhing in severe pain from his serious injuries. Falling in and out of consciousness among the flurry of flashing lights and police officers, he heard words he will never forget.

“I heard somebody yelling, ‘There’s a fatality on the scene! There’s a fatality on the scene!'”

It was not until Sandy woke up later in the hospital that he learned he had caused not only one death, but two — an elderly couple in an older Ford LTD who were on their way to visit a relative to get help with their taxes.

Sandy, now 39, of Georgia, told this story Friday morning to about 500 students and faculty and staff members who packed the Waterville Senior High School auditorium as part of a special program, “Choices Matter,” sponsored by the Alliance Highway Safety. The alliance works with agencies around the country to get the word out about making smart choices on the road.

Sandy, whose crash occurred April 11, 2000, in his hometown, Atlanta, Georgia, is a motivational speaker, author, life coach and mentor. He was in Waterville on Friday as part of a pilot program from Alliance Highway Safety.

He has talked to about 1 million students in more than 40 states about his story and chronicled it in a book he wrote with his brother-in-law, Erik Krug, called “Enduring Regret: Two Different Stories of Drunk Driving, Two Very Different Prisons.”

Sandy was featured in the double Emmy Award-winning television documentary, “Enduring Regret: Chris Sandy’s Life After Causing Death.”

Emphasizing the importance of making good choices, trying harder and reaching out to others, Sandy told students and staff members Friday that when he got out of the hospital after his car crash, he spent two months recuperating at his parents’ home and then was arrested and sentenced to 13 years in prison and 17 years of probation. He served 8.5 years but remains on probation until 2031.

“What I’ve learned through this experience is ultimately the biggest consequences in life are learning to live with the choices that we make,” he said.

Friday was the day before prom for the high school, and the crowd entered the auditorium for Sandy’s talk not knowing what to expect. Students were buoyant, about to head into the long Memorial Day weekend. At first, Sandy played a game onstage about choices with sophomores Tait Blethen and Mackenzie Ferreira and senior Kiara Andreozzi. The audience clapped and hooted.

But as Sandy got into the grit of his life story, the crowd became silent, and one could have heard a pin drop.

Senior Jonathan Thompson said afterward that he found himself close to tears after hearing the story. Thompson, 18, plans to enter University of Southern Maine in the fall to study information technology and political science.

“I think it’s really nice that we can get someone to do this with prom time here,” Thompson said. “I think I’m especially worried about people making good decisions, and if this presentation can at least change one person’s mind, I think that will have made all the difference.”

Sandy showed photos of the wrecked cars from his crash, including that of Nellie King and her husband, William, who were in their 70s when they died. He said the guilt never goes away, and he would never wish that guilt on anyone.

“I hate waking up every day of my life, knowing right here I killed two innocent people,” he said.

Being in prison was tough and lonely, he said. In addition to being a convicted felon, he lost his driver’s license indefinitely. His friends from school had started their lives. He had no idea what he would do for a job when he got out.

His parents divorced as a result of the situation. His sister visited him only five times when he was in prison.

He looked forward to fishing with his father and his uncle when he got out, but his father died shortly before his release date.

The prison took a chance on Sandy when a production company making a television documentary featured his story. When he got out of prison, he told that story in schools. Eventually he would marry the sister of Krug, whom he met when Krug visited him in prison. Krug, who had been a star high school baseball player, was a victim of a 1997 alcohol-related vehicle accident in which his best friend was killed.

Krug suffered debilitating injuries in that crash. Later he became best friends with Sandy and traveled with him on his speaking tours.

Sandy and his wife had two children and he became coach of his daughter’s soccer team. Fortunately, parents of the other children learned about his occupation, speaking to students about choices, and they were understanding and embraced him. But later when he sought to become a school coach at his daughter’s request, he was unable to do so because he was a convicted felon. He also was prohibited from volunteering in schools.

“I turn 40 this year,” he said. “That choice I made when I was 22 years old — it does still impact my life.”

Sandy said that although his speaking engagements were going well and people would tell him he was doing a good thing, he was depressed and didn’t know how to cope with what he had done. He sought counseling in January 2016 and it changed his life, he said. He urged those in the audience to seek help if they need it.

This year, Sandy’s 4-year-old son was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Sandy recalled being devastated. One night at the hospital, he broke down in grief. The next day, he and his wife vowed to deal with whatever was coming. While at first doctors said the tumor was inoperable, a doctor from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, contacted the family and said he thought he could help.

On March 13, the boy underwent surgery and the entire tumor was removed, according to Sandy.

“My son is OK. He’s walking around. He’s starting to do activities again. I love it.”

While the tumor could return, the family now is accepting the reality of the situation and loving him every day.

Sandy told the story as an example of how one should never give up.

“Don’t lose hope in anything you do,” he said.

High school Principal Brian Laramee, who introduced Sandy Friday, said Sandy’s talk was timely, as prom and graduation nears, and the message is important year-round.

“I thought it was a very powerful presentation and the message was very appropriate,” Laramee said.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

 

Correction: This article was updated at 10:30 p.m. Friday, May 26, 2017, to correct that the pilot program mentioned was produced by Alliance Highway Safety, not the Bureau of Highway Safety.