MILTON — Kari Michelle Liedel continues to be remembered by folks who never knew her, but who don’t want her to be forgotten. Sean’s Run Weekend, an annual community event in Chatham, Columbia County, is being dedicated to her.
This year’s chosen honoree for Sean’s Run was a beloved friend, daughter, sister, granddaughter and schoolmate. Kari Michelle Liedel, a 14-year-old from Ballston Spa, was killed on July 7, 2012 by a drunk driver.
To kick off the event there will be a brief observance on Friday, March 28 at 5 p.m. at “The Safety Tree,” a blue spruce that stands in front of Columbia Memorial Hospital. The tree memorializes those who have lost their life because of a drunk driver. Lights will be changed on the tree in remembrance of local people killed, including Liedel. The Safety Tree is in part sponsored by the organization Sean’s Run.
Liedel has also been chosen as the honoree of Sean’s Run, a weekend-long event that began when Sean Patrick French,a 17-year old Chatham High School junior, lost his life on January 1, 2002, as a passenger in a drunk-driving car crash. In response to his death, Sean’s Law was enacted and went into effect on January 1, 2003. The law requires the suspension of a license upon the first arrest of a 16- or 17-year-old on drunk driving charges.
Having Liedel honored by this organization is something that her grandmother Debby Puglisi is very proud of. Puglisi said that since her death, the kindness of people is what has given her family strength. “It is such a comfort to have her memorialized by such a wonderful group of people, it really is,” said Puglisi. Puglisi said that Liedel was a young girl so full of life. She describes her through tears as a vibrant, smart, beautiful young lady, who was excited about her future.
“My daughter once said when Kari walked into a room, you didn’t have to see her, her presence was felt. The kids from school also said you always would hear her before seeing her in the hallways. She sang all the time. She had so many friends and was so loved. Was she perfect? No. But she had every right to still be here with us. We will never see her graduate , marry, have children, become the young woman she was meant to be; instead she was taken away from us at 14 years old,” said Puglisi.
Liedel was killed as she stood next to a mailbox in a yard not far from her home and was struck head-on by a 21-year-old drunk driver, Gavin Staulters, a Ballston Spa graduate, who is now serving a two-to-six year sentence in state prison. Her mom, Sarah, is working on a national campaign to lower the DWI threshold from .08 to .05 percent blood alcohol level. She is survived by her parents, three siblings and many friends and family, who all continue to keep her memory alive. “I miss her laugh, smile, her kisses when she would see me. I miss her singing in my car. I haven’t listened to any of my CDs since she was killed because it hurts too much because she would sing to them all the time, it didn’t matter what kind of music, she just loved to sing,” said Puglisi.
Sean’s Run is coordinated by Sean’s father Mark, who has created an event that has brought immeasurable amounts of support to those to want their stories to be heard, all in an effort to help put an end to drinking and driving.
“Each year for the past three years we have dedicated our work to the memory of a teenager who was a victim of drunk driving,” said French.
Like many who lose their loved ones tragically, Puglisi said she does not want to have lost her granddaughter in vain. She explains it is so important to the family to know that they can make something positive come from their pain. Puglisi said they do not want one more family to have to cope with this type of grief.
“I wish people who drink and drive could understand how much this hurts, to understand how selfish they are being by putting their drinking ahead of the lives of others,” said Puglisi.
Liedel’s sister Kortni was the recipient of an act of kindness shortly after Liedel’s death. The community group “Evolution” transformed
the bedroom that the two girls had once shared. Puglisi describes the room makeover as beautiful, but said what was really uplifting was the compassion they felt from people they had never met. She encourages everyone to take the time to check out Sean’s Run events as it is that compassion that gives people strength to carry on.
Sean’s Run will kick off its 13th year with a weekend of events and a continuing partnership with Taconic Driving School, Remove Intoxicated Drivers—USA, Columbia Memorial Hospital, Columbia County Stop DWI and Twin County Recovery Services.
To learn more visit www.seansrun.com.