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As teen driving deaths increase, Colorado mom hopes her painful experience can serve as a life-saving reminder

As teen driving deaths increase in Colorado, one mom hopes to help
Posted at 10:25 AM, Oct 09, 2023
and last updated 2023-10-09 12:26:08-04

BROOMFIELD, Colo. — As police in Windsor investigate a crash involving an 18-year-old driver and seven other juvenile passengers, where alcohol and speed are believed to be contributing factors, one Broomfield mother has personal experience with the life-changing ramifications an incident like that can have.

The crash in Windsor happened just before 3:30 in the morning on Sunday. The driver and one passenger were taken to the hospital. The six other juveniles were released to their parents at the crash scene, according to the Windsor Police Department.

But in Tami DePalma's case, she didn't get to take her son home.

At only 17, Dominic DePalma had his entire life ahead of him. Tami said her son loved to play soccer and video games, and excelled at math.

On July 28, 2022, Tami said her son left the house and never came back.

"I got a phone call from one of his friends that said 'You need to get to the hospital, something happened,'" Tami remembered. “When you walk into a situation like that you think you're walking into, okay, what are we going to do to save his life? But we didn't realize that's not what we were there for.”

Dominic passed away just hours after the crash. His mother said her son was killed by an impaired driver.

“There were five boys [in the car]. One of them had been drinking and chose to drive," Tami said. “He ran a red light, and they were hit by a truck. A large truck.”

Dominic was in the backseat of the car, according to his mother.

“You don't really heal from the death of a child. You just learn how to live your life and move ahead, even though the sadness is inside of you," Tami said.

The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) reports that, as of September, 55 teen drivers have died on the road this year. That's a 77% increase over the same time period last year. The number of deadly crashes involving teens has also increased by 56% when compared to last year.

Tami spoke with Denver7 from a bench in Broomfield in the parking lot where Dominic had left his car on the day he died. Tami said the lot is used frequently as a meeting spot for teenagers who then carpool to their next location. That's why she worked to get the bench installed with Dominic's name on it- to serve as a reminder to teens before they get into a car or get behind the wheel.

“We were pretty emphatic on making sure that this bench stayed in a place that was very prominent, where those kids would be able to see this when they're gathering for the night, making their choices about what they're going to do that night," Tami said. “I hope to at least start the spread of a message that any amount of drinking and driving isn't okay, not just for kids, but with adults as well.”

Tami firmly believes adults should lead by example when it comes to combating dangerous teen driving.

"Kids are going to do what their parents do, so let's make sure we're having designated drivers and watching what we do," Tami said. “I don't really know how to make a change besides talk to hordes of people and say 'it can happen to you.'”

Sam Sarno, the driver, took a plea deal in the case and was sentenced to 120 days of work release, 80 hours of community service, and two years of probation, according to court records.

The DePalmas have a scholarship in Dominic's honor that aims to find and support children and teens who love soccer as much as their son did and an ambition to play.

Broomfield mother of teen killed in DUI crash speaks out

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