Man haunted by memories of fatal wreck

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By Jesef Williams

Karl Kakadelis still feels pain and guilt about the accident in which his best friend, Wayne Blackburn, was killed almost five years ago.

Kakadelis spoke about it to Buford Middle School students on April 23.

Kakadelis was 19 on June 29, 2003, and was celebrating going to college.

But less than a mile from where he was partying in Union County, N.C., Kakadelis lost control of his Jeep Wrangler. The Jeep flipped and Blackburn was thrown from the vehicle.

Blackburn, who wasn't wearing a seat belt, suffered major head damage. His brain swelled to over twice its size. He died about a week later at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte.

Kakadelis, whose blood alcohol level was .26, was charged with involuntary manslaughter and two counts of aiding and abetting the underage possession of alcohol. The charge was later reduced to felony death by vehicle.

Instead of a prison sentence, he was put on three years probation. He was required to do 50 hours of community service and undergo counseling.

Part of Kakadelis' community service involves speaking to students about the harms of alcohol and the dangers of driving under the influence. He advised the Buford students not to be like him.

"I used to be a leader. I don't want it anymore," said Kakadelis, a former student at Camden Military Academy. "The example of my life is one you don't want to follow."

A lasting impression

Kakadelis spoke after Buford Middle's seventh-grade chorus performed "Where's Kenny?" – a play about a boy who died after driving drunk.

In this fictitious story, Kenny came back from the dead and married the woman of his dreams.

But Kakadelis, with a serious, worried look on his face, shared his grief of how Blackburn will never come back. He will never have a chance to wed the love of his life.

Kakadelis paced back and forth as he spoke into the microphone. He paused several times, placed his hand on his waist – communicating his pain and conveying a look of self conviction.

Several times, Kakadelis asked everyone in the gym to take a moment of silence and simply listen.

"That's what my best friend's voice sounds like," he said.

Although Kakadelis isn't in jail, he said he has to live with that fact that someone close to him is dead because of his careless mistake.

He gets nauseated every time he sees a red plastic cup, which are often the cups of choice at parties with alcohol. There's also another mental block that will prevent him from picking up a drink again. He has a huge scar on his right hand that was left after the accident.

That serves as a constant reminder of the mistake he now vows to never make again.

"I feel sorry for him," seventh-grader Courtney Bowers said. "I wouldn't be able to look at that scar every day."

Garrett Johnson, who played Kenny in the school play, said Kakadelis' story left a lasting impression.

"It's not hard at all "I'll never drink," he said.

Kakadelis hopes that holds true for Johnson and his fellow classmates. He told them that, statistically, the odds are against them, as many youth have their first alcoholic drink between the ages 11 and 13.

"At some point in your life, you're going to be challenged with alcohol – so, hopefully, you'll make good decisions," said Kakadelis, who now works at the Alpha Center in Camden, which provides substance abuse treatment for people in Kershaw, Chesterfield and Lee counties.

Last week's program was sponsored Lancaster County School District's Safe School Healthy Student program. April is Alcohol Awareness Month.

Contact reporter Jesef Williams at jwilliams@thelancasternews.com or (803) 283-1152