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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.
On the way back from the beach at 4 p.m., Melanie and her friends stopped at the Green Harbor General Store on Careswell Street (Route 139) for candy, sodas and Pixie Stix. Then they continued walking to Renee’s for cake and ice cream. The clerk remembered the girls because they were so excited and so polite.
At the Compass Rose, Pamela Murphy finished her third or fourth chardonnay and her scallops and played one last Keno game. Then she walked out into the parking lot, climbed in behind the wheel of her red Buick and turned the key.
At his home on Webster Street, Melanie’s grandfather, Calvin Chandler, heard sirens and a call about an accident over his police scanner. A child had been hit by a car at the intersection of Careswell Street and Temple Road, 2½ miles away.
In Marshfield Center, Melanie’s aunt Betsy Powell and cousin Caroline Satterthwaite were leaving Ocean State Job Lot and the sirens were deafening. “It seemed like they were never going to stop,” Betsy said.
At the Humarock end of town, Bobbi and I were visiting her brother, Mark Worden, and dog-sitting Melanie’s pug Libby. At 4 p.m., Libby got a little wild and wrapped her leash around a kitchen chair, sending it crashing to the floor and carving a permanent green “M” into the hardwood floor.
Melanie and her friends were a block from Edward Road when they started across Careswell Street. The other girls saw the Buick, but Melanie didn’t. They screamed, but it was too late.
Melanie was hit with such force that two neighbors who heard it thought two cars had collided. They heard the screams and ran to help.
People were gathered around the girls, who were hysterical. On the pavement was a pool of blood, a Pixie Stix and a girl’s pocketbook. Someone was kneeling over a figure in the middle of the street.
The car hit Melanie as she crossed the street. State Police said it was going 45 to 50 mph. The impact threw her 100 feet. She never had a chance.
The scene was chaos. Police and rescue workers were called for on cell phones as some tried to comfort the girls and others knelt by Melanie with a hopeless feeling.
Down the road and pulled over to the right was a red Buick. Someone yelled to get help and call the police. Someone else pointed to the Buick and said, “Make sure she doesn’t leave.”
Two men went to the Buick. In the driver’s seat was a woman who reeked of alcohol. When she started to leave, they said she had better stay because the police were on the way and would want to talk to her.
“You think?” she asked.
One of the men leaned over and grabbed the keys. It was obvious that she was drunk.
The phone rang again at Jubilee Café.
“It was a stranger asking for Mrs. Powell and telling me my daughter had been involved in a serious accident,” Nancy said. “I said, ‘That’s impossible, my daughter is at a birthday party. You have the wrong Mrs. Powell.’” Then she just held the phone out and said, “Tod, you’re going to have to take this,” and she left the kitchen.
Tod took the phone.
“His face just went white,” Wendy said. “I really thought he was going to faint.”
Tod told the caller, “Calm down. Is there a paramedic or police officer there I can talk to?”
Wendy asked what was wrong.
“He just looked at me and said, ‘She’s not moving.’ I think I just started to lose it and I shrieked. Tod was really stern and he said, ‘You can’t do that and we can’t tell Nancy.’”
Wendy drove her brother and sister-in-law to South Shore Hospital in Weymouth. No one said a word.
“Tod and Nancy sat in the back seat clinging to each other. Nancy was holding the birthday party invitation. There was nothing we could say. I kept thinking, She’s going to be fine. She’s going to be fine.’”
Nancy will never forget that ride.
“It took forever just to get to Marshfield. All I could think of was, what if she’s scared? Do I call my family? But I can’t, we don’t have any information.”
She and Tod tried frantically to make calls, but they couldn’t reach anyone. Then Nancy’s cell phone rang. It was her brother, Wayne Chandler of Middleboro. He and his wife, Missy, had already heard the news. One of the girls had called Nancy’s parents from the scene, and they were on their way to the hospital.
“I could tell by her voice that the situation was not good,” Wayne said. “She kept saying, ‘Just pray for her.’ I had to hand the phone to Missy because the reality was setting in and it was more than I could handle.”
SOUTH SHORE HOSPITAL
When they reached the hospital, a nurse met them in the emergency department.
“We passed the waiting area and were brought through doors, down a long empty hall and put into a small private waiting room,” Tod said.
“Our fears and anxiety increased drastically. The doctor came in to explain to us that Melanie had been in a serious accident and she had gone through the windshield when the car struck her. She had stopped breathing and had no blood pressure.
“The paramedics had done a great job reviving her, but she needed a respirator to continue breathing. He also told us her brain was not responding to any of the tests they had performed.
“The doctor was very truthful and forward with us. He told us that in his opinion Melanie’s chances of survival were very slim and if she were to make it she would never be the same again. He explained that she would suffer from severe brain damage.
“He said they would transfer her by Med-Flight to New England Medical Center, where there were specialists who could offer better treatment for her. They let us see Melanie before they loaded her into the helicopter.”
Nancy begged to go with Melanie in the helicopter, but it was out of the question. She wondered if she would ever see her again.
Melanie’s flight was the first to have a priest on board. The State Police pilot said when he glanced in the rearview mirror to check on Melanie, “She was so beautiful and serene. The priest was praying over her and he and the nurse were so emotional, tender and caring. I knew Melanie was in good hands. The paramedics from the scene were so concerned they called every 10 minutes to see if she was OK.”
The gurney was high and Melanie was at chest level when Tod and Nancy saw her.
“Her eyes were just like pools of water,” Wendy said. “There was no life in them. There were no cuts on her face and she was just as beautiful. We knew it was bad, but we couldn’t see any injuries.”
In the emergency room, Melanie was strapped to the gurney, and blood was everywhere, in her hair, across her face and body, all over the floor. There were smears where the nurses had tried to clean it up.
Melanie’s eyes were half open and lifeless, and her tongue was partially sticking out of her mouth next to tubes that were feeding her oxygen.
“We will never be able to forget the smell of blood,” Tod said.
“We saw the clothes Melanie was wearing that day, cut and covered with blood and placed in a bag to be thrown away. Before we left the room a nurse handed us Melanie’s jewelry in a small plastic bag covered in blood.
“We can’t erase the look on the faces of the emergency room staff standing around as if they all knew there was no chance.”
The hospital arranged for a police escort to the New England Medical Center, less than 15 miles away, but it was rush hour on the Southeast Expressway. It didn’t seem possible, but that ride was even worse then the first.
Wendy was driving again.
“It was awful. People were horrible to us. They thought we were just trying to ride on the coattails of the motorcycle cop.
“We were flying down the highway in a lane the policeman had created between the passing lane and the middle lane. Cars were parting, but some people were trying to cut us off and get between the motorcycle and us.
The harrowing ride gave Tod and Nancy time to think about the last time they saw Melanie.
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