A Drunken-Driving Tragedy

Twenty-year-old Rick Modica was a man of many talents. He played the saxophone, he acted, he was a good artist, and he sang. The second of three children, he was valedictorian of his high school class in Pleasantville, N.Y. He won a scholarship to Princeton University, where he joined the Tigertones, a campus singing group.

In March 1997, Modica was riding in a car in Central Florida with three other members of the Tigertones. The group had just finished a singing tour, and the four were headed home. At around 7:30 p.m., their Blazer was hit from behind by a Lincoln Continental driven by construction worker Freddy Wilson.

The Blazer flipped. Two of Modica's friends suffered minor injuries, and one broke his pelvis. Modica was killed. Correspondent Harold Dow reports on the role played by alcohol in this case.

"It was a terrible night, a night that will live forever in our hearts and our lives." said Rick's father, Frank Modica, recalling the accident. "And we'll never get over that night or the loss of Rick - ever."

After the accident, Wilson's blood-alcohol level was found to be twice the legal limit.

Wilson "was driving erratically, anywhere from 80 to 95 miles an hour," said Wendy Berger, a prosecutor in St. John's County, where the accident occurred. "One lady from Savannah, Ga., actually called the Florida highway patrol on her cellular phone."

"She said, 'I think this man's going to kill somebody. Pull him over.' And then just minutes later, the accident occurred," Berger added.

Modica was just one of 16,000 people killed in alcohol-related crashes in 1997. Each year about a third of those who die are under the age of 21.

Wilson was convicted of manslaughter and driving without a license. "I never, in my life, wanted to hurt no one or take no one's life," he said.

At the sentencing hearing, Wilson, who admitted that he was wrong to drive when he was drunk, apologized to the Modicas. "I never meant to hurt nobody by no harm. And I'm very sorry. It's my first time and everything, and I'm very sorry for everything that happened."

Rick Modica with his mother Angela
Rick's mother, Angela, read a statement to the court: "Words seem inadequate to describe how it feels to lose a son as special as my son Rick - aAnd to lose him in such a senseless, tragic way," she said. "He meant everything to me. Please your honor, send a message to all those people who drink and drive that their actions will not be tolerated."

Family members also brought along a videotape they had made about ther son's life. Many cried as it played, including Wilson.

Later he tried to explain his emotions. "I was crying because of the victim's family because of what they was going through and I was also thinking about my family and what they were going through," he said.

"I was also thinking about me," he said. "I want to be the one to give my daughter away when she gets married. I want to be the first one to see my grandkids. I want to be with my wife, sit back in the rocking chair, see our grandkid. I want to have that feeling."

Wilson was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

After the hearing, Angela Modica was not forgiving. "There's still no justice," she said. "He's eligible for parole in 17 years; Ricky would have been hitting his stride. He would have been 37 years old."

"As long as I live, I'd never again drink and drive," Wilson said.

It was Rick's friend Josh Salsman, who was in the car during the crash, who summed up the situation best. Wilson "ended someone's life, very quickly in the accident itself."

"But in another way, he ended his own life by making the decisions he made," Salsman said. "And that was difficult for me, knowing that really nothing good was going to come out of this."

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