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View State Law
Chapter 271

Legacy Immortalized in Sean’s Law
By Taitia Shelow

CHATHAM – The glare of the spotlight focused on Chatham September 27 as Governor George Pataki and a host of politicians came to Chatham High School for the historic signing of Sean’s Law.

But it was a bittersweet day for the community, as noted by Chatham Superintendent Marilyn Barry. For while the several hundred students, faculty, residents and relatives/friends of Sean French were excited about the law – which sped through the state legislature at a record-setting speed – they still mourned the loss of Sean, who would have been a senior this year.

Sean was killed in an early morning car accident on New Year’s Day. The accident also paralyzed Sean’s friend, Ian Moore. The driver of the vehicle, Kristopher Goodrich, has pled guilty to criminally negligent homicide. Goodrich, who was legally drunk at the time of the accident, had been awaiting arraignment on a previous driving while ability impaired charge.

The accident spurred Sean’s parents, Mark and Cathy French, to seek the legislation that came to be dubbed “Sean’s Law” by Senate Leader Joseph Bruno. All who spoke at the bill signing praised the Frenches, using words like “strength, character, courage and commitment.”

“In this community we are blessed with ordinary people who do extraordinary things,” Pataki told the crowd. “This is a tribute to the spirit of ordinary New Yorkers who reach inside themselves and use their tragedy to make a better future for others. Mark and Cathy, you didn’t have to do this . . . you didn’t have to re-live this tragedy . . . we are grateful for your courage.”

Student Council President Sarah Jeon opened the ceremony, then vice president Darren Legere led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance. More than a few faces could be seen holding back tears when, next, the Chatham High concert band played an extraordinary rendition of “America the Beautiful.” By the time the bill was signed, several speeches later, people were openly crying.

It was a day filled with much applause and standing ovations, but the loudest and longest applause was reserved for Mark French, who spoke on behalf of the family.

“Wow! Thank you. From Cathy and I and Eric, thank you for that welcome,” French said, then introduced Moore’s father, James.

French thanked the governor for coming to Chatham, and invited him back to the high school for an event such as a football game, student production or the Sean French Memorial Run.

He explained, in an interview September 30, the reason for the invitation: “I wanted him and I wanted to community to know, there are a lot of positive kids and a lot of positive parents . . . and this (tragedy) is not the sole reflection of this community. We’ve personally been impacted by all the support.”

At the bill-signing ceremony, French spoke about how Goodrich had been arrested for DWAI just 18 days before the deadly accident, but had not had his license suspended. French then noted and thanked the many politicians from both parties who supported the legislation and pushed it quickly through, enabling his former track-star son to set another record.

The signing of Sean’s Law, which goes into effect in a few months, capped an emotional, eventful week for the French family. Family and friends celebrated what would have been Sean’s 18th birthday (and was also Ian Moore’s 18th birthday) on September 21 with a remembrance Mass. The Mass was requested by Sean’s classmates, French said. Others laid tokens like flowers, pumpkins and Teddy bears at Sean’s grave.

“People were thinking of him, that’s for sure,” French said.

French said people’s thoughts of Sean are what continue to keep the family going. The community support, Sean’s spirit, and stories of how the young man impacted so many lives are what gave the family strength to pursue Sean’s Law, he said.

“We were just so shocked that we knew we needed to do something so that others would not have to suffer the same shock,” French said. “Obviously other people thought that too. It became pretty obvious to get behind (the law).

“There continues to be so much support given to us by the community. Maybe if we weren’t that fortunate, we wouldn’t have been able to do this,”

Even people who knew Sean only through his running have been memorializing him, French said. On September 28, they gave an award in memory of Sean at a race in Cobleskill, where Sean had set a record in his age group. At least six running events this summer featured dedications to Sean also, French said. Fellow runners have remarked how caring and concerned with people Sean was, and how much maturity he showed.

“Apparently, he was doing something to impress them,” said the proud father. “I thought he was a great kid, but since January 1, I’ve learned so much more (great stuff) about him.”

While the family is proud of Sean’s legacy, now immortalized in Sean’s Law, nothing makes the pain of their loss dissipate, French said

“It’s in your stomach, it’s in your heart; it never goes away. There’s just no way to describe how profound it is,” he said. “Nothing can fill in the hole.”

But inevitably, at a particularly dark moment, someone will call or stop in, or the family will receive a letter about Sean, French said, that provides a lift.

"He made us very proud in 17 years. All the good things he did, all the good memories we have . . . that’s what makes us happy.

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