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
“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
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.