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A Patriot Ledger series: Summary | PART 1 | PART 2 | PART 3 | UPDATES

Melanie's Story

A first-hand story from the grandfather of 13-year-old victim Melanie Powell
Memories of Melanie: A photo slideshow


State ranked among the worst in nation
Quincy judge was among first to take a hard line


TIMELINE: How Massachusetts drunken driving law has changed
Alcohol's causes and effects
How local and state courts treat repeat drunken drivers
Busiest courts in state for drunken driving arraignments

The cost of drunken driving

Massachusetts fails compared with other states
Death toll from drunken driving

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An image of Melanie Powell graces her tombstone. The 13-year-old Marshfield girl was killed by a drunk driver in 2003.A LIFE CUT SHORT

Melanie's Story: A family celebrates the life and still mourns the loss of beloved teen killed by a repeat drunken driver

Melanie Powell, a 13-year-old girl from Marshfield, was killed by a repeat-offense drunk driver on a summer afternoon while crossing Route 139 on her way to a birthday party. She was just one of 156 people killed by drunken drivers in Massachusetts in 2003. I always thought tragedies like that happened to someone else’s family. Then it happened to mine. Mel was my granddaughter.

Bill proposes stiffer penalties for drunken drivers

Next week, the Legislature will begin hearings on a bill that would raise the minimum penalties for repeat drunken drivers.

The bill proposes that anyone caught driving with a suspended license after being convicted of drunken driving would spend at least three months in jail; and that a drunken driver who kills someone and then drives drunk again would lose his license for life.

Driving drunk with a child under 17 in the vehicle would become a new crime with tougher penalties.

The legislation is named after Melanie Powell, a student at the Furnace Brook Middle School in Marshfield who was killed by a drunken driver in 2003.

The driver, Pamela Murphy of Marshfield, was convicted of vehicular homicide and drunken driving on Oct. 21. She had also been convicted of drunken driving in 1993.

Prosecutor Frank Middleton recommended a state prison sentence of 7 to 10 years.

Defense attorney Jack Atwood argued that Melanie was fooling around in the middle of road just before Murphy’s car hit her.

During sentencing, Atwood argued for a lesser sentence. “She’s been extremely distressed because she knew she took a life,” he said.

Judge Carol Ball fought back tears after listening to Melanie’s grandfather, Ron Bersani of Marshfield, talk about the teen and how much she meant to her family.

Bersani also relived the painful last moments when relatives watched helplessly as Melanie took her last breath in a hospital bed at the New England Medical Center in Boston.

Ball sentenced Murphy to 21/2 years in jail, to be followed by 2 years of probation.

Murphy is being held at the South Middlesex Correctional Center in Framingham, a pre-release center across the street from the women’s state prison. She is not eligible for release until March 2007.

The Powell family has filed a wrongful death suit against Murphy and the owners of the Compass Rose, the Brant Rock restaurant where she drank on the afternoon of the accident. The business is now open under new management and a new name, the Bluewater restaurant.

Friday, July 25, 2003, was a gorgeous day on the South Shore. As the temperature soared to 86, the beaches in Marshfield were packed.

At Jubilee Catering and Café on Court Street in Plymouth, Tod and Nancy Powell and Tod’s sister, Wendy Carley, were hard at work juggling the daily needs of the café with the weekend catering jobs. It was hot, really hot, and as usual the air conditioner was not working very well.

View Memories of Melanie: A photo slideshow

Amid the frenzy of activity, the phone rang and Nancy picked it up. It was her daughter Melanie calling from her best friend Katie Conway’s home, where she had spent the night.

They had a big day ahead of them. First a makeover, then girl talk and the beach, followed by a 13th birthday for a new friend. Melanie also had some big news for her mother.
Family photo
Melanie poses in her cheerleading outfit.

At cheerleading practice the night before, Melanie learned she had made “flyer.” That’s the girl who is tossed in the air and caught after doing mid-air twists and turns. It’s not for the faint of heart.

Melanie had wanted to be a flyer the first day she tried out for cheering the year before, but her coach told her she wasn’t ready.

She worked at it, taking dance lessons in Scituate and practiced her routines over and over. She didn’t understand football, but she loved being part of a team and performing all the cheers every Sunday.

“She worked so hard for this,” cheerleader coach Debra Mendez-Arey said. “She was always asking for the chance to try the more difficult stunts.”

Katie’s mother, Pam Conway, remembers going to the field that Thursday night to pick up Katie and Melanie after practice. She arrived while the girls were finishing their last cheer, and quickly picked out Katie, the tall girl on the bottom of the pyramid. But she couldn’t find Melanie. Then she saw her - at the top of the pyramid with a grin that seemed to stretch for miles.

Nancy was so proud of Melanie that she couldn’t stop talking about her.

“I actually started to feel guilty by the end of the day because we had a young girl working for us who was starting college in the fall and she was so excited that day,” she said. “She wanted to talk about college, and I realized I was just lost in being happy for Melanie.”

Before she hung up, she told Melanie, “Stay with an adult and put your sunscreen on.”

“I know, Mom. You already told me.”

It was the last time Nancy ever heard her little girl’s voice.


The Compass Rose restaurant in Green Harbor was one of those small-town watering holes that serve mediocre food, tall drinks and lots of fish stories from local boaters. At about the time Tod and Nancy were planning a family dinner for Friday night to celebrate Melanie’s accomplishment, a middle-aged woman was ordering her first chardonnay and a scallop roll at the bar.

Pamela Murphy, 49, was a regular who lived about a mile down the street in one of the town’s busy beach neighborhoods. There were 90 customers in the bar that afternoon, so keeping track of everyone wasn’t easy for the lone bartender. But she knew this woman: Keno, chardonnay and a scallop roll.

On Edward Road, a side street off Careswell, Mel and her friends were getting ready at Renee King’s house for a day in the sun. After shampoos, experimenting with hair styles and picking out just the right outfit, the girls were off to nearby Burkes Beach. They would return later for Renee’s birthday party.

It was an awesome day. There were friends, boys and lots of families. They ran into a friend who said he had lost a wallet with a lot of money on the way to the beach. “My mother’s going to kill me,” he told them.

Melanie found the wallet on the street as they walked off the beach. They were late, but she insisted on going back to return it.


Nancy didn’t find out about the wallet for weeks, but when she did it made her smile.

“To think that the last thing Melanie did was for someone else means so much to me,” she said.

It wasn’t the first time Melanie insisted on coming to someone’s aid. At least this time it was a person.

At 12, she found a rooster in a snow bank on a stormy day. She picked it up and walked home.

“Mom, I know where that rooster lives,” she said. “We have to save him.”

She dried the bedraggled bird with towels and put it in a pet carrier. Melanie insisted that her dad drive her - and the rooster - to its home. Into the car, the brand new car, they went.

When they reached their destination, there was a problem.

“Mel,” Tod said, “there’s no way I can get up that driveway. It’s not plowed and we’ll get stuck.”

So Melanie hopped out, rooster in hand, trudged up the driveway through thigh-deep snow and rang the doorbell. She wasn’t quite prepared for the response.

“Hi, mister. I saved your rooster.”

“You’ve got to be kidding. That thing is still alive?“

Undaunted, Melanie realized that, even if the owner wasn’t all that thrilled, the rooster was.

When she was 11, Melanie told my wife, Bobbi, her grandmother, that the job she most wanted when she grew up was to be a guardian angel. “Nana” was a little stunned.

“We’d miss you so much.”

“But Nana, I’d always be there for everyone. I’d be able to protect everyone in our family and lots of other people, too.”

Bobbi said if Melanie promised to wait a long time, she would save her a spot on a cloud.



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