Fatal mistake

JOHNSTOWN – Danielle Pitcher made a mistake by drinking and driving, which killed one of her best friends.

The Johnstown High School auditorium was filled Tuesday with juniors and seniors, many of whom will attend the prom this weekend. They got a first-person account of Pitcher’s mistake – and a lesson about the dangers of drinking and driving – at a presentation Tuesday.

Pitcher, 23, was involved in a fatal drunk driving accident in 2011, which killed her friend Gabrielle Acevedo and injured three other people. During her presentation, Pitcher talked about the accident and showed news footage of the accident scene, along with photos of her friends.

On Jan. 22, 2011, Pitcher was hanging out with her friends at Nazareth College, located in Rochester. Characterized as a successful student and only a social drinker, Pitcher thought she drank only one shot of 80-proof liquor, but actually drank four shots from a cup. Her friends then said they needed to get party supplies for the night. Around 11 p.m., Pitcher and her friends went out with Pitcher at the wheel. On the return trip, Acevedo was in the front passenger seat, when Pitcher had a head-on collision with another vehicle.

Acevedo’s head collided with the windshield, while Pitcher suffered cracked ribs, a collapsed lung and a gash on her leg.

The accident happened within 20 minutes of Pitcher taking the drink.

Pitcher’s blood-alcohol content was 0.13 percent, which is above the legal limit. According to Pitcher, her shot had much more alcohol than she expected, equaling about four drinks.

Acevedo was in the hospital for the next several weeks before her parents took her off life support.

However, Pitcher said she was surprised Acevedo’s family offered their sympathy to her.

“My dead friend’s parents were making sure I was OK,” Pitcher said. “Something is not right here, something is not fair, I did something really messed up.”

Pitcher said her lowest moment was when she was hugged at Acevedo’s funeral by the family.

Pitcher pleaded guilty to vehicular manslaughter in July 2011 and was sentenced to six months in jail. She was allowed to finish her degree, thanks to the intervention of the Acevedo family. She spent her weekends in jail until she graduated, then served the remainder of her sentence.

Pitcher told the students Tuesday to not make the same mistakes she made. Being grounded for a month for needing a ride home from a parent after drinking was better than being responsible for killing someone, she said.

Alyssa Nellis and Abby Bobbette, seniors at Johnstown High School, both said the presentation was different from the usual anti-drinking presentations.

“I think seeing the pictures and knowing she killed one of her friends really impacts me,” Nellis said.

“It is a lot different because usually you talk to the victim’s family, and to hear the point of view from someone who actually caused the accident, it gives you a different perspective,” Bobbette said.

“They lived it,” Nellis said.