The Reckoning

David DelSignore wouldn't hurt a soul. And then he did.

| May 05, 2011

Page 2 of 4

"I reversed my truck," he remembers. "I see one girl just running up and down the side of the street. As soon as I get out, I hear her yelling, 'You killed my friends, you killed my friends!'"

•••

DelSignore got out of the truck. He saw three girls lying motionless on the side of the road.

He called Sorensen—no answer. He called Fredericks—no answer. Then he called 911.

One of the girls started moving. DelSignore carried her to his truck, sat her up in the passenger's seat, and turned up the cab's heat. "She was shaking," he says. "She had blood on her. I thought she was going into shock, so I told her friend to stay with her—to try to keep her awake."

DelSignore returned to the two girls who were still lying motionless. One was wearing shorts and a sweatshirt. Both had blood on their faces. Their shoes were knocked off their feet.

He tried to warm them, rubbing their shoulders and arms with his hands. He was crying.

The fire trucks showed up first, then the ambulances and the troopers and the sheriff's deputies. DelSignore was taken to St. Patrick Hospital for blood work before being taken back to the scene of the accident, where he saw a girl being lifted into the back of an ambulance.

A highway patrolman asked if he knew what had happened. DelSignore said he didn't want to know. The officer told him two of the girls, Ashlee Patenaude and Taylor Cearley, were dead and their friend, Teal Packard, was severely injured.

DelSignore submitted to a Breathalyzer. He blew a .147. The legal limit is .08, a little more than half that.

•••

Two days later, a photograph of DelSignore dominated the front page of The Missoulian. His eyes looked small, eclipsed from below by dark, swollen bags. His head was tilted awkwardly, as if it were too heavy. He was biting his lower lip and wearing bright orange jail coveralls, the sagging V-neck exposing a wedge of hairless chest.

On December 31, DelSignore was released from Missoula County Jail on his own recognizance. Sorensen arrived that morning with a promissory note stating that if DelSignore ran, Sorensen and five others (including each of their parents) would pay the $120,000 bail.

DelSignore hadn't slept in days. He'd barely been able to eat. He'd also been denied the prescription drugs Flexeril and Gabapentin, which he took for severe back pain stemming from an injury he'd suffered at Costco in 2005. "He looked so pale," Sorensen says. "He was lost."

On New Years Day, Wendy McDaniel, to whom DelSignore had grown close in 4-H, took him to breakfast along with her family. They ate at Paul's Pancake Parlor, a diner with a mural of the University of Montana football stadium. It was the first time he'd been out in public since the accident, and though he wore a hoodie and dark sunglasses, a man in the restaurant recognized him. "I could hear him say to his friend, 'I can't believe they just let people like that walk the streets.' I felt sick."

•••

Nine months later, DelSignore addressed a crowded room in Missoula District Court. He wore a black suit and gray tie. His voice trembled as he spoke over a broken din of sobs from the audience: "There is nothing I can say or do to bring these girls back. That is my own fault. I can't bring your girls back—I can't. I can't apologize enough to anyone here.

"I do deserve to be punished. My family has stood by my side. I have brought so much shame to them. They raised me to make better decisions. I don't want any harm to come to them for standing by my side.

David DelSignore in the prison print shop. - PHOTO BY CHAD HARDER

"I'm not going to beg for mercy. Allow the community and families to receive peace of mind knowing that the person that caused so much devastation is going away."

The hearing was the final scene in a narrative that galvanized Missoula, where DelSignore's story seemed the final straw in a stack of headline tragedies. There was the March 2009 incident, where an off-duty bartender collided head-on with a Montana Highway Patrol trooper, killing them both. Then, in August of that year, State Sen. Greg Barkus steered his powerboat onto a rocky shoreline on Flathead Lake. Among the four injured were U.S. Congressman Denny Rehberg and two of his staffers, one of whom was in a coma for more than a week after the accident.

But DelSignore was not an unraveling alcoholic or an influential politician. He was a man who lived by means and ends that fit neatly and quietly into society. He was the proverbial Everyman.

"He's the ultimate cautionary tale," said Gwen Florio, a reporter who covered the case for the Missoulian.

On the one-year anniversary of the accident, the Missoulian ran an article with the headline "Families struggling to cope a year after drunken driver killed 2 girls, injured 2 others." It quotes family members, friends, and a Hellgate High School freshmen basketball coach, Phil McLendon, who said, "I still think about those girls all the time. I have their families in my prayers and thoughts." The same day the paper ran an editorial that used the story of the accident as a lead-in to a discussion of the state legislature's obligation to pass more stringent DUI laws:

"It is the Missoulian editorial board's fervent wish that the shock and pain and grief that swept through our community as news of the senseless tragedy spread—the same hurt experienced by everyone, at one time or another, who has ever had the misfortune of being touched by the devastation wreaked by drunken driving—will not be for nothing."

For a year, DelSignore's story was the sort of news that highlights political, social, and moral divisions in an otherwise homogenous community. The catharsis of these divisions could be tracked on Missoulian.com comments, where the tone sometimes was like a boisterous town hall meeting: "What were these girls doing walking along Highway 200?" "David should rot in prison." "Maybe it's time to build some streetlights."

Comments (27)

Showing 1-25 of 27

There's no right or reason to sympathize for this man, for the outcome of his choices. He accepted responsibility, he knew he deserved to be punished, and indeed he did, those girls are gone. Rallying for sympathy for him is disgusting, let him shoulder his due.

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Posted by isaiah 41:10 on 04/04/2013 at 8:22 PM

Thank you for writing this. I knew David growing up in Va. He was the nicest, sweetest boy who was friends with everyone. David made a horrible mistake and it is really sad but eye opening. Does anyone know how we can write to him?

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Posted by wdwlarkey on 02/18/2013 at 6:29 PM

Heart-wrenching story all around.

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Posted by kcamp on 08/17/2012 at 4:44 PM

Jamie,

Your grandmother is so proud of your authentic and fair treatment of this story. Your maturity and writing skills shine through. Love, Emmie

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Posted by Nadine Sarlin on 05/31/2012 at 9:50 PM

I read this article and then read the article that Gwen Florio wrote for the Missoulian. I have to say that Gwen completely fucked her article up. When describing the incident, she uses language like David "plowed" into the girls. Plowed? Really? This is a tragic incident and exploiting it like that is terrible. Her article was hard to read because it was written by an ignorent reporter. Jamie's article was hard to read because it was sad but more over appropriate. I have to say that I am disappointed Gwen never mentioned the DUI that one of the mother's got into afterword. I think that the mothers also need to take some responsibility in the fact that a fourteen and fifteen year old should not be walking along the side of the road in the middle of the night. I feel so sorry for everyone involved in the tragedy, and Jamie has written a beautiful article.

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Posted by River Newell-Cline on 10/12/2011 at 8:13 AM

Sad, sad, sad...anyway you look at it. This was an exceptional article showcasing the pain and loss of both sides. It just tears at the human soul because as a mother of 3, I cannot imagine losing any of my children and the anguish that would bring. I also cannot imagine one of my children accidentally killing someone else's child/ren and the anguish related to that! At first glance you want to hate David DelSignore but this is much deeper than "first glance". David DelSignore drank alcohol and drove home that night and the consequences of that will never go away his entire lifetime. One saying comes to mind..."But For the Grace of God, There Go I"...

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Posted by debdodge on 09/07/2011 at 8:34 PM

This could happen to anyone. He is a decent human being who shouldn't spend 16 years in prison. It was an accident.

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Posted by Doyle Tarwater on 06/10/2011 at 7:51 AM

Bring on the automated vehicles

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Posted by olo on 06/03/2011 at 1:52 PM

What is truly sad is that we have elected conservative? representatives in Helena complaining that the DUI laws are bad for their rural bars' profits. What have THEY been smoking?

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Posted by bob petersen on 06/02/2011 at 10:02 AM

As the adage says "Those who assume only make asses out of you and me" Few people know what really accured that night, so for anyone to assume who is to blame, especially the girls, is incrediably out of line. If you have teenagers, I hope you know what they are doing every SECOND of everyday, and any other assumers would never want to walk one second in the shoes of any of these parents who have lost their beautiful and intelligent girls who were just beginning what should have been the rest of their lives

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Posted by allofu on 05/28/2011 at 8:10 PM

Terrific article about a horrible tragedy. kudos to the Independent and to Rogers for writing and publishing it. My best to all involved as they struggle with a truly heartbreaking tragedy.

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Posted by socprof on 05/16/2011 at 10:33 AM

I am the mother of the beautiful girl who was killed on Brooks/Dore Lane three months ago, as mentioned by the first poster "senta" here (strange that it was posted on the day my mother died). I've been thinking long and hard about these families, more so than I did before, and the grief they feel seers my heart, mind, and soul. Unlike them, I'm not faced with the emotional dilemma of knowing my daughter's killer was a good, caring person who didn't use and abuse people. I don't know if that's better or worse than my family's situation, in which we're able to feel little remorse for our unforgiveness because my daughter's killer has no regard for human life. It seems to me that it must have been (and IS) a little bit worse for these girls' families... although no matter what, holding, kissing, and talking to your lifeless daughter with so many dreams and aspirations... who was so VIVACIOUS... for five hours in a hospital room is the worst thing ever. This article made me cry (everything makes me cry... typing this makes me cry). I'm sorry if I've stepped on any toes and inserted an unwanted comment.

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Posted by verytired on 05/15/2011 at 6:51 PM

I knew Dave and I knew Ashlee. I remember a kind young man, and a little girl with great freckles. My heart goes out to a Mom that I have seen sitting in the grass by the memorial instead of picking up her daughter at Hellgate. The saddest thing that I see about this is that there are still people drinking and driving here in Missoula. People are still dying. A young father from Seattle on a hunting trip, and a young girl who was a sober driver for her friends. Please think before you drink. Make arrangements first.

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Posted by senta on 05/12/2011 at 10:44 PM

Well written article. Thank you to Jamie Rogers. Bunny Ranch should know that the girl in shorts WAS wearing pants over her shorts. The impact of the truck made it appear otherwise. Please no more blame on families or the girls. Mr. DelSignore has accepted his punishment like a man and will have to try to live with himself. The families will be forever broken; trying to live with themselves. Please NO MORE DRINKING AND DRIVING MISSOULA!

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Posted by teacher on 05/10/2011 at 7:06 PM

I have known Dave for a number of years and found him to be a kind and thoughtful person. I have felt so bad for him and for the girls families as well. But like some others, I wondered what 4 girls were doing out at the time of night in the winter and one of them in shorts. It is sad that Dave had been drinking, but it is also sad that it appears the girls should never have been there in the first place. Now all of the parties have to live with this awful turn of of events for the rest of their lives. So sad for all.

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Posted by Bunny Bunch on 05/10/2011 at 3:50 PM

Thought and prayers going out to all the people involved..... Looking forward to the positive that David can and will bring to our youth!! This is very well writting article... thank you!!

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Posted by NE_mom on 05/10/2011 at 12:27 PM

Everything that has been said has already been said a million times before. There is nothing that can bring those girls back, there is nothing that can get Dave out of prison. It's been over a year and a half, and I know that everyone will be hurting for a long time. It is such a tragedy. But if we all pull together we can get through this. David of all people knows he needs to be there (in prison), paying for his actions of that night, and he is not throwing himself a pity party. Believe me I know. He is so incredibly sorry, and will be beating himself up over it the rest of his life. In 3 1/2 years he will be out there educating our community's youth on the effects of drunk driving, and he'll be doing it with a willing attitude. I am so sorry for the girls and their families, I really am. Just the chance that the girls were there that night, that horribly foggy, dark night, and that Dave had had too much to drink, and drifted to the right at that very moment, is pure insanity to me, still. It is sad on both sides, and honestly both sides could be and have been blamed. What's done is done, now we just have to stiff up our lip and deal with it. Dave has been my 'big brother' for 7 years, it's hurt me too. Watching him be called horrible things by people who don't even know him for the person he really is, only by a mistake he made. Bottom line, tragedies happen. We just have to trust in God and move on. I hope that we all can, with the help of supportive family and friends.
-Kamrie White

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Posted by blakspeppyraven on 05/09/2011 at 8:40 PM

This is a tradgedy all the way around.. Good people made poor choices everyday...that being said...David...poor David...UMMMM NO. he made the very bad choice... I am sure he is a wonderful person...but he made the poor choice...please leave the "girls" and their families alone.... They are teeenagers...He is a grown man. They ween't breaking the law...He was...let him be punished and done....and let the families move on. I am so glad he has family support....some of these families are broken...because their family members are gone...forever. To the ingorant remark of wildsong4...I am sure you are a very naive mother of teenagers thinking you always know what they are doing. The reason it didn't come out in court...is because they weren't doing anything illegal....David was... I pray you never live with the tragedy the survivors have to...it probably isn't in your ability...as you are so easy to judge...Good luck to the families that have paid the ultimate price and to David...that one day he can forgive himself-

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Posted by mom1 on 05/09/2011 at 6:25 PM

In reading the post again, I am even more appalled as I cannot quite decide if that comment was inflicted at the parents or the girls? No-one deserved to "die" regardless of when or where they were walking... bottom line! Not even David who has had a part of his soul die that day so please refrain from inflicting any more pain on these people, perhaps it would be easier if we all try to honor a beautifully written article!

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Posted by sadeyes2 on 05/09/2011 at 6:05 PM

Shedding a river of tears for "all" - a terrible incident that too many are suffering for... but if society is at fault for labeling a martyr, shouldn't it be commented that neither David nor the parents should be made a martyr? - I instantly had mixed feelings about how one could post such a hypocritical post against these parents, aren't they ALL (including David and his friends and family) suffering enough!

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Posted by sadeyes2 on 05/09/2011 at 5:51 PM

i knew these girls.. they were my friends. i grew up close to one of them and became good friends with the other recently before the accident. i love and miss them dearly and think of them constantly. their families are in my prayers.. this was a touching article even though it hurt to read. thank you jamie.. rest in peace ash and tay.

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Posted by friend. on 05/09/2011 at 4:49 PM

Rest in Peace Ashlee and Taylor. They say time will heal. But I, finding out the hard way. They're lying. As one of the girls I like to point out that our walking where were supposed to not passed curfew did NOT have anything to do with my best friends being killed that night. Leave your ignorant and rude comments to yourself because you have NO idea what the situation is. And, maybe David is not a bad man and is not evil. But he should be paying for what he did. We are paying for our innocent walking also, so you don't have to worry about that. But I must say I'd rather spend time in prison for killing people the have to live everyday without my best friends for walking on the SIDE of the road at night. Thanks.

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Posted by Ripashntay on 05/09/2011 at 4:26 PM

Rest in Peace Ashlee and Taylor. They say time will heal. But I, finding out the hard way. They're lying. As one of the girls I like to point out that our walking where were supposed to not passed curfew did NOT have anything to do with my best friends being killed that night. Leave your ignorant and rude comments to yourself because you have NO idea what the situation is. And, maybe David is not a bad man and is not evil. But he should be paying for what he did. We are paying for our innocent walking also, so you don't have to worry about that. But I must say I'd rather spend time in prison for killing people the have to live everyday without my best friends for walking on the SIDE of the road at night. Thanks.

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Posted by .. on 05/09/2011 at 4:24 PM

Rest in Peace Ashlee and Taylor. They say time will heal. But I, finding out the hard way. They're lying. As one of the girls I like to point out that our walking where were supposed to not passed curfew did NOT have anything to do with my best friends being killed that night. Leave your ignorant and rude comments to yourself because you have NO idea what the situation is. And, maybe David is not a bad man and is not evil. But he should be paying for what he did. We are paying for our innocent walking also, so you don't have to worry about that. But I must say I'd rather spend time in prison for killing people the have to live everyday without my best friends for walking on the SIDE of the road at night. Thanks.

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Posted by .. on 05/09/2011 at 4:24 PM

I am a friend of Kamrie's family. I just heard of this incident a few months ago, when I saw on facebook comments about David's one-year anniversary of the incident. Kamrie forwarded this article to me, and I have to say I am shocked. Shocked that a society of ours can make such a martyr out of such an unfortunate young man. As a mother of teenagers, I have to ask, as one apparently did..."WHAT WERE 14 & 15 YEAR OLD GIRLS DOING WALKING ON THE SHOULDER OF HWY 200 AT 11:30 AT NIGHT?????!!!! And WHY did this not come out more strongly in the hearing? I"ll tell you why....because we've become a society of BLAMER's. Poor David.

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Posted by wildsong4 on 05/08/2011 at 10:23 PM
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