Promise Committee Remembers Kelsey Durkin

Rachel Hicks

It is the first year that no students present for Kelsey Durkin’s death are on campus, and the Washington and Lee Promise Committee is hard at work to maintain drunk driving awareness.

Kelsey Durkin, ‘14, was a senior when she was killed in a drunk driving car accident leaving a party in the country during the early morning hours on Dec. 3, 2013. Ten other students were injured in the accident.

The driver, Nicholas Hansel, ‘14, pled guilty at Rockbridge County Court to one count of aggravated involuntary manslaughter, two counts of maiming while under the influence and one count driving under the influence. He is now serving three years at Rockbridge County Court.

Tests taken two hours after the accident at a hospital showed Hansel had a BAC of 0.16 percentabout twice the legal threshold.

Every year since Durkin’s death, the Promise Committee shows a video to first-years, gives out bracelets and t-shirts and holds an annual Christmas tree lighting and concert in honor of Durkin.

Promise Committee members and peers commemorate Kelsey in Elrod Commons.

In December, the committee gave out nearly 200 free t-shirts, bracelets and phone cases in return for students’ pledges not to drink and drive.

Promise Committee Co-chair William Szczecinski, ‘18, said the merchandise was donated by the university and is a reminder for students to not drink and drive. For example, the bracelets have the phone number for the Traveller Safe Ride Program.

Elaina Prillaman, ‘17, said she remembers what it was like on campus the day after Durkin was killed.

“The day after campus was so sad,” Prillaman said. “It happened on a Monday night. Nothing happened that should have happened.”

Jordan LaPointe, ‘17, was also a student when Durkin was killed. LaPointe said the university has been “upfront” about the accident and the dangers of drunk driving.

“Instead of hiding things that happened, we’re making sure that our students are safe,” LaPointe said.

The university reacted to the accident in a way that brought students in instead of encouraging off campus secrecy when it comes to drinking, LaPointe said. The university gives students the resources to drink responsibly and engage with the administration.

LaPointe said he appreciates how the Promise Committee integrates drunk driving awareness into the first-year orientation program, showing incoming students right off the bat what happened.

Prillaman, who now works in the Admissions Office, said the administration and faculty just want students to be safe.

“It’s always on people’s minds,” Prillaman said.

Ben Rietano, ‘18, is a Promise Committee chair. Rietano said that while he wasn’t present for the accident on campus, he still knows students who were involved and realizes the magnitude of the consequences of what happened.

“While we weren’t here, we still have some perspective on it,” Rietano said. “It still happens. We want to focus on the culture around drunk driving being strictly impermissible.”

Rietano said that in the years to come, the Promise Committee will add distracted driving awareness to their campaign—what with the dangers of texting and driving.

The committee has also held preliminary discussions with Katie Bennett, ‘14, to bring drunk driving awareness to the university’s law school.

Prillaman said the campus does a lot to ensure students have the resources to be safe if they do choose to drink—between Public Safety, the Student Health Center, Traveller Safe Ride and the Promise Committee.

“People definitely haven’t [forgotten],” Prillaman said.