Wednesday, May 9 – High Schools Grads Hear Unique Prom Message

BERLIN – A then-18-year-old Pennsylvania high school graduate in Ocean City for the annual Senior Week ritual who struck and killed a pedestrian, another recent high school graduate, in June 2005 was back in the resort area this week to preach the dangers of drinking and driving to the senior class at Stephen Decatur High School, which is preparing for its prom this weekend.

Benjamin Walter, now 20, was highly intoxicated when he ran over Justin Sheftel on Coastal Highway on June 15, 2005, launching the victim 143 feet from where he was struck. Sheftel, who was also intoxicated and froze in the lane of traffic after going back to grab his hat, was killed in the tragic accident.

Last year, Walter pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide, DWI related, and was sentenced to over five years in jail, all of which but 12 months was suspended. As part of the plea arrangement, Walter is also required to spend 40 hours a year for three years making speeches at high schools and Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) events about the dangers of drinking and driving and how the tragedy has forever changed his life.

He has completed about 19 of the speeches, mostly around the Pennsylvania area where he lives, and this week made a similar presentation at Decatur, not far from where the tragic accident occurred. An emotional Walter told the assembled Seahawk seniors a momentary lapse in judgment forever changed his life and urged the local students to make good decisions as they prepare for their prom this weekend and beyond.

“Are you willing to give up all of your hopes and dreams with one wrong decision?” he said. “I was that night and now Justin is not with us anymore, and I have to live with that everyday.”

Walter’s mother Cindy also spoke at the assembly on Tuesday and said she hoped the stirring presentation sunk in for the students. “If this saves just one life, it will be worth it,” she said. “Out of tragedy, sometimes good things happen.”

For the full story, see Friday’s paper or return to The Dispatch website.