Special Reports

Torsell speaks up about the night that changed so many lives

Editor's note: The Centre County District Attorney's Office recently contacted Anthony Torsell and offered him the opportunity to share his experiences and thoughts regarding alcohol abuse and drinking and driving in an effort to help young people make safe, healthy decisions.

He composed the following letter, which was presented May 3 to high school seniors at the annual Law Day at the Centre County Courthouse in Bellefonte.

It is printed in full today with the permission of Anthony Torsell and his family.

My name is Tony Torsell. I am 24 years old and a 2004 graduate of Bellefonte Area High School. Currently I am serving a five-and- a-half-to 11-year prison sentence at the State Correctional Institution at Albion. Allow me to tell you a little bit about myself and why I am in prison.

I grew up and have lived most of my life in Bellefonte. I come from an average, middle- class family. I have three siblings, among whom I am the eldest. In high school I was a straight-A student, a multi-sport athlete and a member of various extracurricular activities. I spent my free time hanging out with friends and occasionally volunteering my time to the community and to my church.

After high school, I attended Clemson University in South Carolina for two years. In 2006 I transferred from Clemson to Penn State to study sports medicine (kinesiology major).

Everything in my life was going exactly the way I wanted it to go. My future was bright and I had the world at my fingertips. I was having so much fun and I felt like nothing could go wrong. But despite all the good in my life, there was something bad too. I began drinking alcohol my senior year in high school. I never took an interest in it prior to then, but at that point it became the “cool” thing to do; so I gave in to the peer pressure that surrounded me.

I started out slowly, but progressed quickly. When I went away to college my drinking became heavier and more frequent. I was going to parties every weekend and drinking to an extreme extent. I thought what I was doing was fine; all my friends were doing it too and I was able to balance my schoolwork and my job with the drinking. Little did I know I was leading myself down a dark path.

On Oct. 27, 2006, I attended a Halloween party at a friend’s house. I drank all evening and all night, and after the party I made the decision to drive my car. I had no business being behind the wheel of my vehicle in my impaired state, but all the drinking I had been doing desensitized me to the consequences of my decisions and actions.

I thought to myself, “Nothing bad will happen to me” and “What’s the worst that can happen, a DUI or an underage?” How wrong I was.

As I drove through State College that night, I came to an intersection where three young men were crossing the road. By the time I saw them it was too late; I struck two of them. The first young man was killed, and the second young man was severely injured, paralyzed for the rest of his life. My mind was racing; it was like a dream. I could not believe what was happening. I was convicted in the Centre County Courthouse of homicide by vehicle while DUI and aggravated assault by vehicle while DUI and have been in prison for two and a half years.

Do you know what it’s like to kill someone, to injure someone to the point of paralysis, to turn your life upside down?

What about prison? Do you know what that’s like?

Believe me, you don’t want to know what any of these things are like. The last several years of my life have been a true roller coaster — physically, emotionally and spiritually. In a split second, my life was changed forever; and not only my life, but my family’s and friends’ lives were affected as well; and the young man who was killed and his family and friends; and the young man who is paralyzed and his family and friends; and many people in the community not directly involved were affected.

When I was young, my father would often tell me to “think before you act.” Many times I shrugged it off, but I wish I had taken it to heart the first time he said it to me.

To think before you act is to take a time out before you make a decision; to take a step back and think objectively about the choice at hand: “Is what I’m about to do going to help or hurt me? Is it going to help or hurt others around me? Will I be abiding by the law or breaking it? What are the consequences of the actions I’m about to take?”

This is what it means to “think before you act.” If I had done that I would have realized the severe mistakes I was making and I probably wouldn’t be where I am today.

To “think before you act” isn’t only for drinking alcohol and driving under the influence; it applies to every choice and decision you ever make throughout your life, no matter how big or small. Every decision in front of you has the ability to be like a pebble tossed into calm water, so small yet creating ripples that span far and wide reaching and affecting many people. This power can bring about good or bad. Be sure to create good ripples with your decisions.

Whether you know me or not, whether you like me or not, please at least learn from me and the things I’ve done. I’ve made decisions that I thought were insignificant without thinking first, and those decisions became very grave mistakes. My life and the lives of many others have been forever affected by my actions.

I want you to remember always to think before you act, no matter what you’re doing. You hold your life and lives of those around you in your hands. Take that responsibility seriously. Bring about good for yourself and for others through the decisions you make and the actions you perform.

The “man who decides poorly and acts recklessly is only happy until his mischief turns against him.” I am a prime example of that. So live your life to the fullest and have fun, but be safe and be smart at the same time. Always think before you act. And if when you are 21 and of legal age to drink, and you choose to drink alcohol, remember always to take a taxi and not a life.