WATERVILLE — Chris Sandy was like many other young men at 22, having fun with friends, going to parties and enjoying life.

That changed when he had four drinks at a party one night and got in his car with a friend to hit another party nearby.

Driving 80 mph along a dark country road, Sandy caught up to a white minivan and decided to pass it. As he did, he saw a car coming in the opposite direction, preparing to turn into a driveway.

Sandy tried to get back into his own lane but couldn’t and the vehicles collided. When he awoke, he could barely breathe and was seriously injured.

“I heard somebody yelling, ‘There’s a fatality on the scene! There’s a fatality on the scene!'”

It was not until later in a hospital that he learned he had caused not one death, but two – an elderly couple visiting a relative to get help with their taxes.

Sandy, now 39, of Georgia, told this story Friday to about 500 students, faculty and staff who packed the Waterville Senior High School auditorium as part of a program, “Choices Matter,” sponsored by Alliance Highway Safety. The alliance works with agencies around the country to get the word out about making smart choices on the road.

Sandy, whose crash occurred on April 11, 2000 in Atlanta, is a motivational speaker, author, life coach and mentor. He was in Waterville on Friday as part of a pilot program made possible by the Maine Bureau of Highway Safety.

He has talked to about 1 million students in more than 40 states and chronicled his story in a book he wrote with his brother-in-law, Erik Krug, called “Enduring Regret: Two Different Stories of Drunk Driving, Two Very Different Prisons.” Sandy was also featured in the Emmy Award-winning television documentary, “Enduring Regret: Chris Sandy’s Life After Causing Death.”

Sandy said Friday that he spent two months recuperating at his parents’ home before being arrested and sentenced to 13 years in prison with 17 years probation. He served 8.5 years but remains on probation until 2031.

“What I’ve learned through this experience is ultimately the biggest consequences in life are learning to live with the choices that we make,” he said.

Friday was the day before the high school prom, and the audience entered the auditorium for Sandy’s talk not knowing what to expect. But as Sandy got into the grit of his life story, the crowd became silent.

Senior Jonathan Thompson said he found himself close to tears after hearing the story. Thompson, 18, plans to enter University of Southern Maine in the fall to study information technology and political science.

“I think it’s really nice that we can get someone to do this with prom time here,” Thompson said. “I think I’m especially worried about people making good decisions, and if this presentation can at least change one person’s mind, I think that will have made all the difference.”

Sandy showed photos of the wrecked cars from his crash, including that of the two victims, Nellie King and her husband, William. He said the guilt never goes away.

“I hate waking up every day of my life, knowing right here I killed two innocent people,” he said.

Being in prison was tough and lonely, he said. His friends from school had started their lives. He had no idea what he would do for a job when he got out. He would be a convicted felon and his driver’s license was suspended indefinitely.

His parents divorced as a result. His sister visited him only five times in prison.

The prison took a chance on Sandy when a production company making a television documentary featured his story. When he got out of prison, he told that story in schools. Eventually he would marry Krug’s sister, whom he met when Krug visited him in prison. Krug, who had been a star high school baseball player, was injured in a 1997 alcohol-related accident that killed his best friend.

Krug suffered debilitating injuries in the crash. Later, he became best friends with Sandy and traveled with him on his speaking tours.

Sandy and his wife have two children and he coaches his daughter’s soccer team. But when he sought to become a school coach, he couldn’t because he was a convicted felon. He also was prohibited from volunteering in schools.

“I turn 40 this year,” he said. “That choice I made when I was 22 years old – it does still impact my life.”

Amy Calder can be contacted at 861-9247 or at:

[email protected]centralmaine.com

Twitter: @AmyCalder17