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.]