'I killed my best friend' adds sad preface to prom

A 20-year-old woman set to stand trial on a charge of DUI-manslaughter tells students the sober reality of drunken driving.

Published May 8, 2007

Admiral Farragut Academy biology teacher Amy Carboni helps plan the school's prom every year.

And every year, she has the same fears.

"I worry so much, " Carboni told her students during a preprom meeting last week. "We care so much about all of you. Please, please make choices you won't regret."

Then she introduced Jessica Rasdall, 20.

The petite brunette was wearing a black and white sundress, a stark contrast to the students' khaki uniforms, but she could have been one of them.

The students listened intently as Rasdall told them about the night in February 2006, the night she decided to get behind the wheel after drinking.

She told them about the crash that resulted, killing her best friend, Laura Ann Gorman, 18.

"She was my best friend, my other half, " said Rasdall, who is scheduled to go to trial in August on a DUI-manslaughter charge. "I killed my best friend."

Tears streamed down 18-year-old Lindsey Hirsch's face as she watched a photo montage of Gorman and Rasdall projected on a large screen.

The images remind her of many photos she and her classmate and best friend of four years, Jessica Ronay, 18, have posed for together.

"We have pictures of the two of us in the exact poses, even, " Hirsch said, as Ronay nodded in wide-eyed agreement.

The photos of happy times are interspersed with photos of the destroyed Honda Civic taken at the accident scene and of Laura's gravesite at Calvary Catholic Cemetery in Clearwater.

"As soon as I saw those pictures, I said to myself, 'Okay, that's it, I'm never drinking, ' " Hirsch said.

Hirsch suddenly grabbed Ronay's arm.

"Do you trust me when I'm driving? Do you feel safe?" Hirsch asked.

Ronay said that she does, adding that she and Hirsch are inseparable and drive "pretty much everywhere together. And Lindsey always drives."

Seniors gathered in Valerie Wells' classroom after Rasdall's talk to discuss what they thought of the presentation. They were evenly divided about what they think the appropriate consequences should be for Rasdall, who faces an Aug. 21 court date.

The students agreed on one point: They were all deeply affected by Rasdall's story, and it will give them pause, especially during events such as prom and graduation festivities.

The academy's prom was this weekend at the Vinoy.

"I think there may still be drinking anyway, Matthew Coyle, 17, said Wednesday.

"But they'll think before they drive now."