Gateway student shares family sorrow
When AJ Denne graduates from Gateway High School this week, her mom will tell her how proud she is, and her teachers might offer words of encouragement as she heads off to college.
But her father won't be there, because a decision four years ago robbed her of that.
Timmy Denne died in March due to injuries he suffered in a motorcycle crash four years ago on Route 30 in Greensburg.
A police report confirmed that there was alcohol in his blood when he lost control of the bike, Denne said.
He was 44 when he died.
The story of the accident and its effect on the family was relayed in a presentation that Denne submitted to a safety-related contest sponsored by Edgar Snyder and Associates.
It earned her a $1,000 scholarship to the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg.
First responders told the family that Timmy split a road sign with his helmet when he was propelled from his bike, Denne said.
The helmet saved his life, but severe brain damage left him all but lifeless over the last four years, she said.
“He didn't know who I was, and if he did know who I was, he thought I was 4 years old,” Denne said.
“He stopped remembering all of us altogether.”
She visited him with her mother and her brother in a nursing home.
“We wouldn't know if he understood us, or if he knew what was going on,” Denne said.
In some ways his death was a relief for the immediate family, she said.
“He wouldn't want to live like that,” she said. “He's finally done.”
Safety prevention experts who judged the entries agreed that Denne's slideshow was emotional and poignant.
“When you see the presentation and you realize at the end that she's talking about her dad, it hits you hard,” said Allegheny County Deputy Sheriff Jason Tarap, who was one of three judges.
“Even during the presentation of the awards, it was still moving. You could still see she was affected.”
Also on the panel was Chris Vitale, a nurse at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh and manager of the injury prevention program.
She has seen first-hand the emotional devastation that drunk driving can cause for patients and their families.
“They never, ever believe that this is happening to them, and it's really sad,” Vitale said.
“You'll hear a lot of people say that ‘teenagers think they're invincible,' but it's not just teenagers, it's everybody. It's all of us.”
Denne said she wants people to learn from her family's story, especially her peers.
“If I'm in a situation where people are drinking, I'm always the person to take the keys,” she said.
Kyle Lawson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8755, or firstname.lastname@example.org.