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Family, Friends Head to Tallahassee

By Laura Frazier,
The Bloomingdale Gazette

Friends and family members of a Valrico teenager who died last month in an automobile accident are asking for support -- and a promise -- from Florida legislators and drivers of all ages.  On March 3, Katie Marchetti, a 16-year-old Durant High School junior, and her boyfriend, 19-year-old A. J. Lamantia, were traveling home on I-75 at about 10:30 p.m., after attending a Lamantia family gathering in Sarasota.  Marchetti told her mother earlier that day she and Lamantia would be traveling with his parents. But when the young couple left Sarasota that night, Lamantia was at the wheel.  Katie was reclined in the passenger seat, her seat belt unbuckled.  

Lamantia reportedly nodded off for a split second, long enough to lose control of the vehicle and send it careening first into a guard rail, then into a concrete wall.
The impact threw Marchetti from the car into the path of oncoming traffic. Lamantia, who was wearing a seat belt, quickly regained consciousness, only to watch in horror as Marchetti was run over by another vehicle. She died the next day at Tampa General Hospital.  Casting blame aside, Katie’s mother, Laura Marchetti, said last week, “The simple truth is that my daughter died because she wasn’t wearing her seat belt.”  

The Marchetti family and dozens of Katie’s friends from Durant, Bloomingdale and Newsome high schools launched a campaign this month to encourage teenagers and drivers of all ages to buckle up – and stay buckled up – every time they get into a car.  The group organized the Katie Marchetti Memorial Foundation, “to bring hope to other families who have suffered similar losses, and awareness to all about the virtues and necessity of seat belt use.”  

The family has chartered two busses to transport about 100 adults and teenagers signed up for a trip to Tallahassee next week. The group intends to lobby legislators in session at the state capital to pass a seat belt safety bill currently under consideration.  The Dori Slosberg Safety Belt Law would allow law enforcement officers to pull over motorists of any age primarily for not wearing a seat belt. Although Florida law requires all drivers to wear seat belts, officers are not currently permitted to pull over a vehicle solely because the driver is unrestrained -- unless the driver appears to be under the age of 18.  The bill is named for the late daughter of State Rep. Irving Slosberg, who was not wearing a seat belt when she died at age 15 in a 1996 car crash in Boca Raton.  

Laura Marchetti said Katie’s family and friends want to express the critical need for every driver, not just teenagers, to buckle up every time they get in a car.  Since her daughter’s fatal accident, Marchetti has discussed the bill with many drivers of all ages. The idea, she said, has met with a surprising degree of resistance from many motorists… mostly adults.  Some adult drivers explained their reluctance to support the law in terms of personal freedom and the right to choose whether or not to wear a seat belt.  Seat belt use, however, is already a state law, Marchetti said.  

“This (Dori Slosberg Bill) just gives our law enforcement officers the authority to enforce seat belt use for drivers of all ages, not just those they suspect are under 18.  It is so important that this law applies to all ages across the board because, first of all, parents and other adults are the ones modeling behavior for our teenagers.”  A number of adults she’s debated the matter with expressed concerns about fatal injuries sustained in spite of – or even due to – seat belt use.  

The minute percentage of fatalities sustained while wearing a seat belt can’t compare to the number of lives that could be – and are -- saved every day by using them, she said.  “If you had a fatal disease and your doctor told you, ‘Here is the cure. You have a 98 percent survival rate with this treatment,’ wouldn’t you go with those odds?”   Aside from contributions of time and money, Marchetti asked Brandon area residents to make a personal promise in her daughter’s memory.

"Every time you fasten your seat belt, it crosses over your heart.”  “Please make a commitment to cross your heart with your seat belt every time you get into a car.”  

The group will head to Tallahassee at about 5:30 a.m. on Wednesday, April 26, the last day legislators are in session this month.  If passed, the Dori Slosberg Seat belt Safety Law would go into effect in October 2006.  To participate in the trip to Tallahassee or to contribute to the memorial foundation, call 681-4291 or send an e-mail through the Web site at www.thekatiemarchettimemorialfoundation.com.  


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