Remembering Matthew Scarpati

The Spectrum

On July 20, 2009, at approximately midnight, three state troopers knocked on Lynn Scarpati's front door bearing news that shattered her heart and ultimately altered the rest of her life.

The troopers requested that her husband, James, get out of bed. Together they braced themselves for what would come next.

They learned that a drunk driver had hit their 19-year-old son.

Lynn knew that her son was going out for a bike ride that evening; he had been doing the same nighttime ride for several years. She was a bit concerned when she called his phone and the call went straight to voicemail, but she wasn't too worried because she knew that the bike path he rode on was through a safe, calm area.

For the five seconds after Lynn heard about the accident, her eyes were filled with tears but her heart was filled with hope. She wanted the next words out of the trooper's mouth to be that her son was being taken care of in the hospital. They weren't.

"They said that he did not survive," Lynn said.

Matt was changing the flat tire of his bicycle when James Ryan, a 46-year-old motorcyclist, raced down the bike path at a speed somewhere between 85 and 100 miles per hour. With a blood alcohol level of .10 and cocaine in his system, Ryan struck the teen with his Harley Davidson.

Both were flown by helicopter to the Nassau University Medical Center in NY for urgent care.

Ryan ended up in a coma with a traumatic brain injury, but he survived.

Matt did not.

Matt was one of the 33,808 people who died from a drunk driving incident in 2009. This statistic doesn't comfort Lynn; it horrifies her.

Since the accident, Lynn has taken a stand to educate others about the importance of refraining from drunk driving, and she aims to raise awareness about the tragedy that is drunk driving.

It was not just Matt's and his family's lives that were affected by Ryan's reckless act. The lives of the members of Pi Lambda Phi Fraternity here at UB were altered as well.

Matt was their brother.

To honor Matt's memory, the brothers of the fraternity get together every year to host a walk on campus. This year, due to scheduling conflicts, the walk could not be on North Campus where it usually is, according to Pamela Jackson, the assistant director for Greek Affairs.

This has not prevented the brothers from raising awareness and hosting the annual walk.

"It's something that's very close to us," said Kyle Berninger, a senior mechanical engineering major and President of Pi Lambda Phi. "Every brother knows about what happened. I don't think it's something that that's easy to forget; I can't say that I will. I watched the boy pledge, then he became one of my best friends, and he was just taken from me. That's not something I can ever forget."

On Saturday, April 7, the Matthew Scarpati Memorial Walk will take place at 11 a.m. on the Ellicott bike path on North Campus. The boys believe it will be a perfect closing to the awareness week and they look forward to memorializing their departed brother and best friend.

The Scarpatis' efforts to raise awareness and protect lives will never stop. They established The Matthew Scarpati Endowed Scholarship Fund, which offers annual awards of about $1,000 to male students who have completed their freshman year at UB and have chosen to be an economics major, like Matt.

The proceeds from the walk go to this scholarship fund. Money is made through a registration fee of $5 and the selling of raffle tickets at the actual walk. Free snacks and water are provided along with T-shirts and wristbands.

The brothers want to make this memorial walk as positive as possible. They know Matt would have appreciated the smiles on the participants' faces as they walk two miles to honor him.

The first year of the walk, approximately 300 people attended; the second year there were about 500. The numbers are continuously increasing as the walk gains recognition. Pi Lambda Phi has raised approximately $5,000 for the scholarship through the walk and other fundraisers.

Although this one day each year is dedicated to remembering Matt, the brothers of the fraternity think about and are affected by his death every single day.

"I was at home when I found out," said Trevor Titley, a senior communication major. "And to tell you the truth I thought it was just some sick joke. I never imagined hearing such terrible news. I felt devastated. It's the loss of a friend. He was taken too soon."

Titley reminisces about a time when Matt was pledging. He was known for rap battling everyone around him. Titley said Matt was a terrible rapper, but he put his heart into it, like everything else he did. He describes Matt as: "the ideal kid, very intelligent, and a family kid."

"Any time we were all together and he was in the room, his personality and character would just brighten it," Berninger said. "Whether people were having a good time or not, just him being there would make it that much more enjoyable. He made the environment more pleasant. He always had a positive outlook on everything."

Lynn agrees. She said that she doesn't know of many teenage boys that liked hanging out with his parents the way Matt did.

Through her tears she remembers him.

"He was a great, great person, he really was," Lynn said. "And he can't speak for himself, and now we have to do that. For him and for all the other people that have lost their lives to something that they shouldn't. There is a cure to drunk driving, there really is: Just don't do it. Call a cab. Do something so you can avoid being in that situation. Matt was an outstanding person. He was above average in intelligence but he wasn't Einstein. I don't know if he would have ever rocked the world, but I know he rocked his family's world, and his friends' world, and he was a great friend to a lot of people. I think he could have made an impact in his own way."

The Scarpatis have attended Pi Lambda Phi's walk every year. Lynn finds it fantastic that the brothers of the fraternity continue to raise awareness and help her situation. Although it's impossible to know whether the walk will actually save a life, the fact that it has the ability to is what keeps her enthusiasm up during the rough times.

Lynn was unsure as to whether or not she wanted her son to pledge a fraternity but she trusted his instincts and allowed him to become a part of the brotherhood. She now sees how much they care about honoring and memorializing her son.

"I really do appreciate that they honor him, and they honor themselves," Lynn said. "It really shows the character of not only Matt, but Matt's choices. Matt made good choices. He made good choices in friends and that has been very apparent to me. I mean, I knew it before, but I really know it now."

Each year approximately 11,000 people are killed in alcohol-related crashes, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). Lynn joined MADD after the accident.

This year UB is hosting Drunk Driving Awareness Week from April 2 to April 7 to inform the community about the risks of drunk driving and to encourage people to think twice before entering a car with an intoxicated driver.

Ryan is serving three to nine years in jail after pleading guilty to second-degree manslaughter and other charges. The Scarpatis will continue to memorialize their son and attempt to help families in similar situations. They will never stop bringing awareness to their son's devastating situation, and with the help of Matt's friends at UB, his existence and impact will never be forgotten.