MADD interviewed Stephen’s dad, Michael DiPatri and his stepmom, Linda DiPatri.
Stephen DiPatri: The Adrenaline Junkie
Stephen DiPatri lived life to the fullest. He enjoyed taking risks even at a young age. When he saw a warning not to try things at home, he took it as a challenge.
“He was an adrenaline junkie,” recalled his stepmother, Linda.
His father, Michael, remembers when his friend, a fighter pilot, would greet Stephen. Stephen would throw himself into the pilot’s arms to be whipped around like a plane. It was this love of excitement that would later cause Stephen to get a motorcycle.
Stephen was athletic and charismatic. He played baseball, soccer, and football. His athleticism and charm allowed him to have many girlfriends. His family didn’t get too attached.
The Beloved Uncle
Stephen was very close with his siblings Frank and Nicole. He and his sister were both army brats. Nicole was born in Germany, Stephen in Maryland.
Nicole’s three children adored their uncle. When Stephen entered a room, Nicole’s daughter would sing. Nicole’s oldest son got a tattoo to honor his late uncle and while her youngest son doesn’t remember much, he has random memories that he cherishes of his Uncle Stephen. Frank’s daughter was born after the crash and has grown up without knowing her Uncle Stephen.
Nicole was the one who called Michael and Linda to tell them that Stephen had been killed. After Stephen’s death, Nicole began speaking out against drunk driving. She worked with a state trooper who then connected with Michael. This would be the catalyst that got Michael speaking at victim panels.
Stephen’s Farewell Tour
The summer of the crash, Stephen was traveling the country visiting family on his motorcycle. Linda refers to it as his “farewell tour”. On his last stop to visit his mother, Sheila, and his sister, he shipped his motorcycle. He drove with his father and Linda. He was able to spend time with his family one last time.
From there, he rode his motorcycle to North Carolina where he was staying with some friends. They helped get him a job at a resort while he figured out his next steps.
According to “The Box,” a documentary about Stephen’s life, he reconnected with a girlfriend from high school. “I am happy. I feel like I am finally where I’m supposed to be,” he told her on their date. She was the last person to see Stephen alive.
While riding his motorcycle home from his date, Stephen was killed by an underage drunk driver.
The police were unable to locate his mother’s home address. All they could find was her real estate business card. Instead of receiving a death notification from a trained law enforcement officer in person, Sheila had to receive the news over the phone.
A Celebration of Life
Stephen’s family members came to North Carolina from all over for his celebration of life. Like most people, the staff at the resort where Stephen worked loved him. They took his death hard and the resort management even allowed his family to stay for free. Michael remembered the staff getting emotional as they served the family. While it was emotional and difficult, Linda remembers it was also beautiful.
Michael’s father was in his final stages of Alzheimer’s and was unable to travel to North Carolina. A separate celebration of life was held at their home without Stephen’s body.
Michael and Linda Get MADD
Michael and Linda had two victim advocates. One in South Carolina, where the crash took place and one Arizona, where they lived.
Wendy Ann, their victim advocate in South Carolina, provided emotional support. She was with the family in court as they read their victim impact statements.
Kristie Martin, their victim advocate in Arizona, provided them resources and next steps. Kristie also connected them to a victim advocate attorney who worked pro bono. Their lawyer attended court on behalf of them and Stephen.
While the case was ongoing, Michael and Linda worked with MADD. They attended a Power of Parents® event and were uncomfortable referring to the woman that killed their son as an “alleged drunk driver.”
Healing Begins Slowly
Linda remembers praying that her family was able to heal and forgive the offender that took Stephen from them. “She was not a bad person. She made a bad decision.” said Linda.
The offender, whose blood alcohol content was well beyond the legal limit at the time of the crash, had just turned twenty years old. Michael thinks about how the crash has impacted her family. He couldn’t imagine being on the other end of the phone hearing that his child was responsible for taking someone else’s life.
They believe she feels remorse. She completed all her sentence, finished school and got married. Her life continues.
Stephen’s does not. “You can’t help but get melancholy.” Linda says.
12 Years Later
It’s been 12 years since Stephen’s death and his family chooses to celebrate his life rather than mourn his death. Michael tells Stephen’s story because he and the offender were both so young. He feels Stephen is with him every time he shares his story.
Michael sees the impact his story has on people every time he shares it. He has yet to see an offender twice in the victim impact panels he’s served.
Michael and Linda recall a time they were ordering bagels for a MADD event. The woman who took their order noticed their pin with Stephen on it. She excitedly pointed out that she knew him. She had no idea he had been killed. Michael and Linda were the ones who broke the news to her. Seeing the woman’s reaction was a testament of how well-liked he was.
Michael and Linda now volunteer with the DUI taskforce, first responders and police officers. By providing meals, a warm drink in the winter and a cool one in the summer, they can indirectly thank the first responders that held Stephen’s hand during his final moments.
A documentary titled “The Box” tells the heart-wrenching story of Stephen’s life. Click here to watch it.