Saratoga County

Tragic youth deaths focus of Milton grief forum

The mother of a 17-year-old killed in a traffic accident in January in Saratoga County shared the gr

The mother of a 17-year-old killed in a traffic accident in January in Saratoga County shared the grief of the mother of a 14-year-old daughter killed in the July 7 car-pedestrian accident in West Milton at a special forum on Tuesday.

The two tragic accidents — with young drivers being charged with serious counts afterward — involved students of the Ballston Spa High School.

A variety of community-based organizations, from the Cornell Cooperative Extension to the Prevention Council of Saratoga County, had personnel available to talk to family and friends about grieving and dealing with their loss. About 35 people attended the forum at the Milton Community Center.

Kari Liedel, 14, of Atomic Project Road in West Milton, was walking along West Milton Road at 8:33 p.m. July 7 when police said she was struck and killed by a vehicle driven by Gavin Staulters, 21, of Rock City Road. Staulters has been charged with driving while intoxicated.

Melody Scaia of Rock City Road, who lost her daughter Noelle S. Johnsen, 17, in a Jan. 7 accident on Barkersville Road in Providence, said the grieving process has been made easier in recent months by supportive family and friends.

“Total strangers reached out,” Scaia said. She said the mother of a Niskayuna boy, Donald C. Dudley Jr., 17, contacted her after her daughter’s death.

“She lost her son, Donnie, last year,” Scaia said about the boy’s death last August in a traffic accident.

Scaia said the support of family and friends, and community forums like the one held Tuesday evening, have helped her deal with the loss of her daughter, who was an excellent student who would have graduated from Ballston Spa High School in June, a year earlier than her fellow students.

“My message is to take a deep breath, it does get easier,” Scaia said.

“I am hoping kids understand how important it is not to drink and drive and not to speed,” she said.

Brian A. Vecchio, 18, of Ballston, the driver in the rollover crash that claimed Noelle Johnsen’s life, has been indicted on charges of second-degree manslaughter, reckless driving, and criminally negligent homicide.

Heather Kisselback, executive director of the Prevention Council of Saratoga County, said she and others were attending the community forum to offer help and information.

“People are really confused and looking for answers,” Kisselback said about parents who have lost a child in a tragic accident. “We try to find a way to express their feelings about their grief.”

For example, Kortni Liedel, the 16-year-old sister of Kari Liedel, was at a table painting a small flower pot in which she planted flower seeds.

Sarah Liedel, Kari’s mother, said she wants to “get the word out” that it should be safe to walk along West Milton Road.

Leidel said her daughter, Kari, was friends with Noelle Johnsen and was very moved by her death in January.

She said Kari talked about getting a tattoo in honor of Noelle that said “Noelle, Ride on in Paradise” but was not allowed to do so because of her age. Noelle was an accomplished rider and was planning a career associated with horses. Kari Liedel recently completed 9th grade at Ballston Spa high and was an aspiring singer.

Kim Bolster, assistant principal at Ballston Spa High School, said the school offered grief sessions for family and friends of Kari’s last week. The high school will also conduct grief counseling sessions once school starts in September.

State Assemblyman Jim Tedisco, R-Glenville, attended the forum.

He said there is a bill in the state Legislature he calls the “Three Strikes Bill” that would impose more stringent penalties on a driver who has been involved in three consecutive drunk driving or reckless driving incidents that involve personal injury. He said the bill has support in both the Assembly and state Senate,

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