In Memory of Some Regular Kids

On Dec. 12, 1971, six Fairfield teenagers were killed in a car accident. A friend commemorates, 40 years later.


One year ago this month I heard the news of a terrible tragedy in Griswold. It was Dec. 7, already an infamous day, when five teenagers piled into a Nissan Altima at around 4:30 in the afternoon and headed down Route 201.

Steven Szklartz, 15, and 16-year-olds Sativa Cornell, Dillon Clifford and John Clapper III all were killed when their car strayed from the road and struck two trees. Joel Gallup, now 17, survived with serious injuries.

I could hardly believe my ears. Here it was, well into the holiday season, with garland and lights and carols playing everywhere, and another town would be made to suffer through this horrific, unspeakable tragedy. Mothers, fathers, friends and neighbors across Griswold and beyond, just heartbroken by the loss of these young people.

When I say “another town,” I am speaking of Fairfield. It was long ago -- 40 years ago today -- and the circumstances were eerily similar to what had just happened in Griswold.

On Dec. 12, 1971, eight Fairfield teenagers piled into a Saab station wagon for a Sunday afternoon drive. Their names were Glenn Reid, Kim Kliolz, Debbie Striebe, Linda Peterson, Kim Shay and Ray Stuneck, along with Linda’s brother, Donnie Peterson, and Neil Postler.

They headed up Burr Street in Greenfield Hill. The Saab left the road and struck a tree. Donnie and Neil survived. The other six were killed.

Glenn Reid was a 15-year-old sophomore at Roger Ludlowe High School and one of my closest friends. I had known him and his brother, Mark, since we were 7 or 8 and our mothers had compelled us to spend Saturday mornings in junior choir practice at the old Black Rock Congregational Church.

It is difficult to describe the effect an event like this can have on surviving family members and friends, on a community. This week I had some help.

“It is never forgotten, nor will it ever be forgotten, and the tragedy is still there,” Griswold First Selectman Phillip Anthony Jr. told a reporter. “But they say time heals all wounds. It will take time for the families and the town, but life does go on.”

He is right on both counts. Life does go on. But a tragedy of this magnitude is never forgotten. It is still there.

I have observed Dec. 12 throughout my life. Because this year was a significant anniversary, I decided to look online to see what might have been written about this event -- at the time Fairfield’s worst traffic fatality -- in the years since.

I found almost nothing. Several pages into my search I found a short article published the day after in the New York Times. It described eight youths “just going for a ride” when the car, traveling on Burr Street near Hemlock Grove, left the road and struck a tree.

“No evidence of alcohol or drugs was found in the car,” it said.  The same as with the Griswold crash.

Last week, on Dec. 7, a granite memorial was dedicated at Griswold High School in a ceremony marking the anniversary of the crash. “Once upon a time… four very special people, our best friends, gave us smiles, hugs, and laughs,” an inscription on the memorial reads.

And it names them: “Dillon, John, Sativa and Steve.  Always in our hearts, never forgotten.”

Four lights burn on a lamppost beside the memorial.

After reading about this, I called the to see if anyone was aware of a memorial or scholarship or anything in the memory of the six Fairfield teens. I spoke with Deputy Superintendent Karen Parks. It turns out she knows something about losing a child, and she listened to my story with genuine interest.

But no, she was not aware of anything at the schools, or in the town, commemorating this awful event 40 years ago, or these young lives lost. She encouraged me to write something.

Boomer parents are frequently chided for the way we coddle our children, the way we make them the center of our universe. That may be true. All I know is today it would be unheard of for a town to lose six teenagers and not have someone at least plant a tree.  Or six trees.  Maybe there were trees planted, a memorial somewhere. I hope so.

It has been said that we truly die only when our names are no longer mentioned.

Glenn Reid, Kim Kliolz, Debbie Striebe, Linda Peterson, Kim Shay, Ray Stuneck.

They were not celebrated athletes. They didn’t spend their weekends volunteering at the soup kitchen or animal shelter. They weren’t being groomed for Yale or MIT. They were just regular kids. They were funny. They were loyal friends. They loved their parents. They were good kids. They were my friends.

They deserve to be remembered.

[Editor's Note: Bill Thorndike is the editor of Ledyard Patch.]

Debbie Roos Schmarr December 12, 2011 at 04:50 PM
I went to grammar school with one of the brothers of the deceased. That day is still so clear in my mind and remember all the sadness that filled within our community.Just a tragedy...I agree some type of plaque should be placed on Burr Street to remember these young lives cut way too short.
Bernie December 12, 2011 at 05:38 PM
I was a teacher at Roger Ludlowe. I was 24 and in my 4th year of teaching. I was NOT prepared to handle the grief which I was seeing and feeling on the part of the students, much less those in my Sophomore home room. It was palpable and it colored my own fears as I raised 3 boys through the impossible maze of the teen years. Thank you for your loving tribute. Those young people will be remembered fondly today because of you.
LindaG December 12, 2011 at 07:13 PM
That was the single most beatifully written and moving article I have ever seen written in the Fairfield Patch. It moved me to tears. What a beautiful tribute to lives gone far too soon. I hope that we, as a community, join to memorialize these young people in such a manner that, as Mr. Thorndike suggests, they will never be forgotten. They - and their families and friends - deserve at least that much.
Laurie Clinnin December 12, 2011 at 09:39 PM
I lived around the corner. My brother was hanging with his friends at the Smith's house... the site of the accident. Young boys that witnessed this terrible tragedy. My family has never forgotten. We have spoken often of those poor kids. A beautiful tribute and long overdue. Thank you, Mr. Thorndike.
Mike Ricotta December 12, 2011 at 11:14 PM
Bill...I was a senior at Ludlowe when this happened. I know that there were a lot of us who remembered this in their own ways for years afterward. RIP Glenn, Kim, Debbie, Linda, Kim, Ray.
Susan Komisar Hausman December 13, 2011 at 11:33 AM
I grew up in Fairfield and remember that accident. Beautiful tribute, Bill.
Janene Caracaus December 13, 2011 at 01:17 PM
Thank you Margot for bringing this article to my attention. As I am no longer living in Fairfield, I don't regularly check the local news. A year ago however, I read an article that was very touching. In 1975 I graduated Roger Ludlowe High School. There was a young, popular, athletic young man named Doug Perce in my class. He was very friendly. He was killed in his little green Volkswagen right before graduation. It was horrible for all of us, at that age you feel you have the world by the tail and are invincible. His father had built a small memorial on the roadside in Southport, and attended to it many years later after Doug passed away, but I read last year the city tore it down. I wish there was a way to add him to the Memorial.
Fairfield Resident December 13, 2011 at 01:27 PM
Speed Kills. What a Shame.
Pem McNerney (Editor) December 13, 2011 at 03:32 PM
Well said, Bill, and beautifully written.
Aidan December 13, 2011 at 04:05 PM
As a parent I had a tragic close call with my oldest son, his new bride ... both in their early twenties ... and their infant. They survived ... but it took almost a year of intensive effort and medical miracles to even become mobile and properly functioning. I often wonder about that rookie, sixteen year old driver who broadsided them ... and if his life was similarly upended. And if he ... and those in his circle ... got some instant maturity. I've no malice ... what's done is done. I just hope never to read of such a tragedy ever again. Every time I see a neighborhood teen cross the license threshold I churn inside ... for the child and the parents. Cars are little more than land-rockets ... thousands of pounds of lethal heft that have to be respected. It's a dangerous rite of passage. I'd love to hear that some local teachers copied this sad tale and made it available to all the youngsters in their charge so that they can truly understand their own fragility ... and the fragile nature of their friends and parents. The heartache is beyond description. Thanks.
Jerry Vigorito December 13, 2011 at 05:29 PM
All kids from Lake Hills, all friends, neighbors and classmates. A sad day remembered.
Jerry Vigorito December 13, 2011 at 05:35 PM
Memorial Trees were planted behind Fairfield Woods Jr High School soon after.
Eileen Lastrina December 13, 2011 at 10:49 PM
We at !MPACT-Mourning Parents ACT, Inc., thank you for your memorial to these young people, gone all too soon. We will be sure to post your article online on our facebook page, so that all our friends, many of them teens, can also read your tribute. There are surely family members and friends, like you Mr. Thorndike, that carry these "regular" kids' memories in their hearts, and are thinking of them as this time of year approaches. Driving laws have changed drastically since this tragedy, and we know now that a car filled with teenagers is a recipe for disasters. It is now against the law, partly due to the tough lessons we eventually learned from tragedies like this one in Fairfield. They did not die in vain. Eileen (Brendon's Mom)
Maura Stokes December 14, 2011 at 12:11 AM
Bill, that was a beautiful tribute... Those kids were friends of my sister... my dad was a first responder....i was very young, but i remember it as the day the world stopped for Fairfield... I was very close to one of the families... It is a tragedy that will never be forgotten. Thank you for your beautiful memorial...
Joanne Crader Jovovich December 14, 2011 at 12:37 AM
There is a blog on facebook under the group "Life in Fairfield and Westport before 1989", it's quite moving to read, and remember that horrible day. All of Fairfield's hearts went out to the families of these kids. I graduated from Roger Ludlowe the year before. I think it would be a wonderful thing to have a lasting memorial put somewhere in the town for the friends and families.
dsherwood December 14, 2011 at 02:59 AM
The trees were taken down for the addition and the plaques were thrown away. The plaques would have been a great reminder for all, to think and slow down. I wish they were still there when my kids went to Farfield Woods.
dsherwood December 14, 2011 at 03:06 AM
Dear Bill, Thank you so much for writing a beautiful piece. Thank you for remembering. :) Love, The Shay Family
dsherwood December 14, 2011 at 03:10 AM
People remember :), I saved an article from the Fairfield magazine a few years ago when Captain Bob Comers retired. A piece from the article said, There were tragedies along the way as well. He still recalls,with emotion in his voice, the night when six teens were killed in a car crash on Burr St. in the late Sixties. He said "I never did quite get over that. (40 years later) That made me very happy that he remembered,but at the same time it's still very sad. Just remember, to always say good night to your kids. Love them and wish them well. Thank you Captain Bob Comers for remembering. Love, The Shay Family.
Paul Piorek December 15, 2011 at 03:27 PM
This was the most traumatic event of my childhood. Three of the victims lived on my block, and one of the survivors lived right across the street. I was a year or two younger than most of the children involved in the accident. I vividly remember hearing the sirens while watching a Kansas City Chiefs game with my younger brother. It's hard to believe that it's been 40 years. I still live on the same block and think about them every time I take a walk around the block. They will never be forgotten.
Dave Peck December 15, 2011 at 06:09 PM
Janene, Just to let you know, I was a friend of Mr. Perce (Doug's dad) and also a classmate of Doug (RLHS 1974). Since I worked for the Fairfield Police Department at the time and I knew about the construction that was going on near Doug's memorial, I want to let you know that it was restored properly after the construction. Between the very responsible company that did the work around the memorial and our wonderful DPW folks, the memorial stone was reset, two trees were planted and the DPW planted spring bulbs all around the site. The memorial is on the green in front of the Peoples United Bank on the Post Rd. in Southport. Mr. Perce was very pleased. Mr. Perce passed away in August 2011. Dave Peck
Judy December 18, 2011 at 12:14 AM
Thanks, Bill. We will always remember Glenn in our hearts and the other kids that hung out with us at Black Rock Teenagers and at Andrew Warde HS. It was very traumatic time and one we won't ever forget. Good luck on the memorial, it would be a very good thing to have happen. I heard about this write up from my best friend Barb in NC and I'm in AZ, so the word has gotten spread. Judy (Camp)
kim December 20, 2011 at 12:23 AM
They are not forgotten, I went to school Ffld Woods Junior HS at the time and will never forget them.
Larry Patterson January 05, 2012 at 01:51 AM
As so many have said before, it was a very dark grey Sunday afternoon that became forever etched in the minds of so many Fairfielders. Those kids haven't been forgotten by those of us who knew them. After 40 years, I still find it impossible to drive down Burr Street without thinking about Kim Kliotz and Kim Shay. (Neil Postler was hospitalized for months and months). It was a terrible tragedy that remains horrific even by today's standards. Heaven must of badly needed six more angels that day...May they forever rest in peace knowing that they haven't been forgotten.
patrice lundgren January 07, 2012 at 10:30 PM
beautiful article, tribute is long overdue. I remember this tragedy so vividly. I played softball with Linda, lived down the street from Debbie's cousins. A very sad day for all of Fairfield. Thanks for keeping these memories alive!
Donna Striebe Leavitt January 10, 2012 at 03:39 AM
Thank you for the beautiful tribute to my sister Debbie , Kim K, Kim S, Linda P, Glen R and Ray S. Saddest day of my life, and the memory of that day is as vivid today as living it then. Thank you again.
james a mcfadden sr July 10, 2012 at 10:46 PM
James mcfadden I will never forget that day.I grew up with all of them and lost touch with Donnie Peterson .Debbies dad passed away today in May. Now Ed your with your little girl! I saw a lot of death in the military but Dec 12 1971 was the most tragic day in my memory. Thanks for remembering
Susie Putnick McKay September 11, 2012 at 01:20 AM
Truly a tragic incident. I grew up in Ffld and will NEVER forget it. My heart went out then and still goes out to this day (and always will) to the friends, family and loved ones of the victims as well as the victims themselves. May you forever rest in peace.
drb October 06, 2012 at 02:05 PM
Not that it makes it any less tragic, but the Fairfield County Corner determined alcohol and reckless driving was the cause of the crash. See The Bridgeport Post, February 1, 1972. And RIP, Ray, Glenn, Kim, Kim, Linda and Debbie.
Ron November 16, 2012 at 11:08 PM
I was a sophmore at Fairfield Warde High School, when this tragedy happen. I only knew one of the kids that died in this terrible accident. The day before this accident, I had a wonderful thing happen in my life. For the first time in my life, I felt good about myself. The day before this tragic accident, I finally realized that I mattered. I was somebody. See, like so many teenagers I struggled with many issues, including low self-esteem. The next day, this new found confidence was tempered by this tragedy. These two consecutive days in my life, will live with me forever. My wonderful thing that happen to me and other good and wonderful things that followed in my life, where so much more appreciated by me, because of my memories of those kids dying up on Burr Road. I learned from that tragedy, that life is precious, and when I found that wonderful thing in my life the day before, the accident had me stopping and taking inventory of how lucky a 16 year old I was. See, I climbed into many cars and drove all over Fairfield County, drinking, drugging, and driving aimlessly. It made me think of the adage "By the Grace of God walk I". It could of been me and my friends that died on any of those many occasions. The day before this tragedy, followed by the day of the tragedy will live with me forever. Those kids that died up on Burr Road were my inspiration to continue through my life, knowing I matter, and live is precious, and Thanking God ever day. - a thankful 57 year old
Michael Champagne March 13, 2013 at 02:55 PM
Like many respondents here, I grew up in Fairfield. However, I did not know any of the victims, nor do I recall the tragedy, despite being old enough (48, graduate of RLHS 82). I am moved by the Patch article and, more so, by the many posts that followed. Thanks to all for sharing.


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