This article can be found published on the Daily Local News‘ website.
WESTTOWN — Dan Perrino’s life was turned completely upside-down after one “stupid” decision and now he and his father, Dave, are out to try and stop other teenagers from doing the same thing.
As part of West Chester Rustin High School’s mock car crash Monday morning, the Perrinos spoke to the junior class following the acted-out accident.
The mock car crash, which is nothing more than a staged drunk driving accident with volunteer students as drivers and passengers, actor parents and a practice for all first responders, can be powerful in its own way for the viewers.
But after the “drunk driver” is hauled away in the back of a police car, “bodies” are loaded into the coroner’s van and whoever is left is either loaded into an ambulance or sometimes air-lifted in a medevac helicopter, the student actors can wipe the fake blood off and go back to their school day.
The words of the Dan Perrino, however, have the ability hit a little deeper because he couldn’t wash away the traumatic injuries he suffered after the car he was driving swerved off the road, bounced off a boulder and then hit a telephone pole in 2009 when he was just a junior at Garnet Valley High School.
All due to “one, stupid decision,” he told the Rustin students.
Perrino was a popular athlete at Garnet Valley and, as he said, was one of the cool kids.
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Then that one choice he made on July 1, 2009, changed the lives of him and his entire family.
“I had a bright future ahead of me, I was on top of the world and like many of you, I thought I was invincible,” he said. “That one choice I made was to drive my friend’s car home after I had been drinking.”
The plan originally started off safe. Perrino was going to stay at his friend’s home, which was only a mile and a half away, but another friend woke him up in the pre-dawn hours and wanted to leave, tossing Perrino the keys to the car.
They never made it home that night.
First responders used the Jaws of Life to rescue the two students and rushed to the hospital, where the police report stated Perrino was dead on arrival.
Upon arriving at the hospital, doctors told Dave Perrino to say his goodbyes. Dan Perrino’s brain was rapidly swelling, requiring immediate surgery that they didn’t think he’d make it through.
“I was probably not going to survive the surgery I needed,” Dan Perrino said.
“Luckily for me, I did. My injuries were so bad that the doctors said I would never wake up. They said I was going to be paralyzed, and then that I might not be able to see, hear, walk or talk again.”
After spending three months in a coma, Dan Perrino did wake up and after two and a half years in hospitals, learned to walk and talk again, though he is half blind in his left eye and half deaf in his left ear and because the brain injury was primarily on his control side, his right side is weaker than his left. He also suffers from short-term memory issues.
“My son, Daniel, the other son — the athlete … he died July 1, 2009, period,” Dave Perrino said. “There is no other way to look at it (and) there is no other way to say it.”
The passenger in the car, Dan Perrino’s friend, suffered only a minor concussion and spent just a single day in the hospital.
In 2015, Chester County saw 34 traffic fatalities and in every one of those 34 cases, the crash involving a fatality was due to either speeding, intoxication or distracted driving, such as texting or making phone calls, according to Charles Gaza, chief of staff for District Attorney Tom Hogan.
The Perrinos relive that horrible day over and over again, speaking to other students in an effort to have them avoid becoming just another statistic.
“Your decisions affect many other people besides yourself,” Dan Perrino said. “Please don’t drink, do drugs, text or call while driving. Injuries like mine last forever. It’s just not worth it.”