Groton — For the first time, Linda Strickland spoke publicly Friday about the death of her 16-year-old son, Alexander Bousquet, who died in the summer of 2006 in a car accident.
“My inner strength is coming from Alex,” Strickland said. “Alex is my inspiration. He was a positive person, and I know he would have wanted me to do this.”
And so, with a deep breath, Strickland stepped before a lectern in the Robert E. Fitch High School auditorium to tell her story to about 600 students, mostly juniors and seniors.
Strickland, who lives in Colchester, was at Fitch as a member of the Mourning Parents Act, a nonprofit group for families of teenagers killed in car crashes. Members tell parent-teacher groups and high school audiences about the tragedies in their own lives in the hopes of promoting safe teen driving.
On Friday, Strickland said that July 18, 2006, was an ordinary summer morning. Her sons — Ted, then 19, and Alex — had decided to drive down to Virginia Beach to meet some friends.
“Alex goes, ‘Mom, who loves you? Alex Bousquet loves you.’ I tell him I love him, too. Little did I realize those would be the last words we would say to each other.”
The next day, she received a phone call from a hospital nurse in Maryland, saying that Ted was in the intensive care unit following a serious car accident.
When she asked about Alex, the nurse said she could not provide any information. The nurse said two young men were airlifted to the hospital, but there had been three passengers in the car.
Ted was the only one who survived.
The days after Alex’s death were a blur. She couldn’t believe that her son was dead.
“Alex is coming home,” Strickland told herself. “He never broke a promise. He’s coming home.”
Strickland said Ted was driving on a three-lane highway and didn’t realize he was in the left-turn lane.
People started honking at him and his car was “T-boned” — hit broadside. Alex died at the scene.
Ted had survivor’s guilt, his mother said. When he was about 21, he threw himself on the bathroom floor and told her he was going to kill himself. He told her he couldn’t live with the guilt.
“Ted never grieved or cried for his brother,” she said. “... I called 911 and he was taken by ambulance and placed on a 72-hour suicide watch.”
Ted is now serving in the Army now, but he still has a hard time talking about the accident, she said.
Strickland told the students she wants them to be safe.
“I don’t want this to happen to you guys,” she said. “There are people out there who love you so much.”
After Strickland finished, a slide show of photographs of Alex’s life was displayed while “One Sweet Day” by Boys II Men with Mariah Carey played in the background. Complete silence took hold in the auditorium. Some of the teenagers cried.
Sponsored by Students Against Destructive Decisions and the Fitch Parent Council, Friday’s event also featured speaker David Graham of Bloomfield.
Graham was a senior in college on May 12, 2005, when he was driving a new Pontiac Grand Am to his girlfriend’s house in East Windsor.
One of the girlfriend’s brothers, Matthew, a high school senior, got into the front passenger seat, and another, Andrew, sat in the back.
They drove on some back roads and onto Newberry Road in East Windsor, heading toward Interstate 91.
That is that last thing Graham remembered when he woke up, still in the driver’s seat. He had hit another car.
He was pinned by a tree where he sat. Andrew was screaming about leg pain.
Graham couldn’t see Matthew until he managed to turn and saw that Matthew’s seat had been pushed all the way back in the car. Matthew was bleeding from the eyes and ears. He was taken by Life Star helicopter to Hartford Hospital, where he died on arrival.
Police told Graham he was traveling at 101 mph. He had struck the other car head on and had crashed into two trees.
Graham was inconsolable. He couldn’t believe his actions had killed one of his best friends.
“I had caused all this pain and I was fine,” Graham said. “I felt incredibly guilty for it.”
Graham said he wasn’t a reckless person and that it was the only time he was speeding. He reminded the students that it only takes one poor decision to change a person’s life forever.
“If anyone out there thinks you’re invincible, I’m here to tell you you’re not,” Graham said.
He said there isn’t a day that goes by when he doesn’t wish that he would have died instead of Matthew.
“I have to live with the fact that I took someone’s life.”
Graham showed the audience pictures of what was left of the car. Its doors and roof were missing, and every piece of glass was smashed. Graham was arrested and eventually sentenced to 15 years in prison, suspended after two years served, followed by five years probation.
“Whatever idea that you have in your head about what prison is like, make it 1,000 times worse,” Graham said. “... All my dreams of becoming a physical education teacher are gone. I brought that upon myself. I don’t want you to lose your dreams.”
Afterward, some students said they would now think twice before doing anything reckless while driving.
Nishant Sahoo said the presentation really drove home the point that one mistake could have really big consequences.
Madeline Little said she doesn’t have a driver’s license yet, but will know now to be extra careful when the time comes.
“It showed the impact that accidents have on families,” Little said. “I never want to affect my family and friends like that.”