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Couple's Plea to Teenagers:  Buckle Up

From the Tampa Tribune

By YVETTE C. HAMMETT
yhammett@tampatrib.com

Published: Mar 18, 2006

VALRICO> - Laura and Vincent Marchetti went far beyond the typical bounds when it came to making sure their daughter was prepared to drive on her own, no matter the weather or traffic conditions.  They had purchased her a new Toyota Scion shortly after her 16th birthday but did not allow her to drive alone for six months.  When she was with her parents, Katie Marchetti always wore her seat belt.

But she was not wearing one when she died in a crash on Interstate 75 on March 3. And now the Marchettis are focusing their attention on other teens, wanting desperately to spare anyone else the heartache that befell them and their 14-year-old son, Andrew.

Katie's boyfriend, 19-year-old A.J. Lamantia, nodded off at the wheel because he had been up since 3 a.m. for work, Laura Marchetti said. The car veered off the road, striking first a guardrail, then a concrete wall.
The impact threw 16-year-old Katie from the car and into the path of another northbound car. She died hours later.

To add to their nightmare, the Marchettis, of Valrico, learned later that their daughter had driven often without wearing her seat belt.  So they and their extended family have started a foundation geared toward helping other teens make the right decision when it comes to using their safety belts.  "I want my daughter's face to represent everyone's child," Laura Marchetti said this week.

To help put the issue in perspective, the nonprofit Katie Marchetti Memorial Foundation will focus on getting teenagers to talk about the importance of wearing seat belts and explain why they wouldn't, Vincent Marchetti said.  Donations to the foundation will be used to purchase literature and billboard space, and organize education and awareness programs, Laura Marchetti said. They also plan to work to get their message into the schools.

"Our kids have gotten into a car and buckled their own seat belts since they were old enough to buckle them," Vincent Marchetti said. But for many teens enjoying some independence for the first time, the old habit gets set aside, he said.

"The night of Katie's funeral, I had 20 girls spending the night at our house," Laura Marchetti said. "They wanted to be at Katie's house."  The girls gathered around Katie's mom for a frank conversation.  Some admitted that they, too, occasionally get into a car without buckling up.  "We'd really like to be able to sit down with the kids and just ask them why they wouldn't wear a seat belt," said Linda Pelosi, Katie's aunt, who lives in Rhode Island.  "The biggest demographic not wearing seat belts is 16-year-olds," she said. "When we send them out into the world, we really have to just cross our fingers and hope they are doing the right thing."

The foundation's goal will be to strongly encourage teens to do the right thing, Vincent Marchetti said. He said he will be working with a public relations firm to help spread the word about the foundation.  Two local Dunkin' Donuts shops and the AmSouth Bank branch in Valrico have offered to set out collection containers featuring Katie's photo.

Katie's uncle Chris Sipe, of Fort Lauderdale, has set up a Web site to get the word out and collect donations on the Internet. The address is www.thekatiemarchettimemorial foundation.com. The Web site also offers opportunities for teens to write their thoughts.  Donations also can be mailed to The Katie Marchetti Memorial Foundation, 3601 Sugarloaf Lane, Valrico FL 33594.

The Marchettis also plan to work with federal legislators to enact stricter rules for seat-belt warning systems. They would like to see every driver and passenger seat equipped with an alarm system that chimes until everyone in the vehicle buckles up.  Laura Marchetti said she hopes to spare other parents the pain she has endured.  "I feel cheated," she said. "You put so much into molding a young person ... trying to navigate them through life."

HOW TO CONTRIBUTE
The nonprofit Katie Marchetti Memorial Foundation will educate teenagers on the importance of wearing seat belts through billboards, literature and awareness programs. Donations can be mailed to 3601 Sugarloaf Lane, Valrico FL 33594.

The Web site www.thekatiemarchettimemorialfoundation.com offers more information and a place for teenagers to add their thoughts.

Copyright 2006 - THE KATIE MARCHETTI MEMORIAL FOUNDATION

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