Drunken Driver Grants Prison Interview, Shares the Emotional Pain of Killing Her Best Friend

Jessica Rasdall drove drunk, now reflects in prison on fatal crash, aftermath.

ByABC News
June 1, 2009, 12:50 PM

June 3, 2009 -- With one bad decision on a February night in 2006, Jessica Rasdall's life changed forever. She and her best friend, Laura Gorman, both 18 at the time, had spent the night dancing and drinking. At 3 a.m., the two got in a car, with Jessica at the wheel, and headed home. They never made it.

"I never blamed it on anybody else," Rasdall told Elizabeth Vargas of "20/20" before she was sent to prison last year. "I had a big court hearing. I got up and I said, 'I drank, I drove and I killed my best friend.'"

Not far that early morning from Gorman's dorm room at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Fla., the car carrying the teens veered off the road and struck a tree. Gorman was killed by blunt-force trauma to the head. Rasdall, now 22, recovered physically but, three years after the crash, she remains emotionally haunted by the images of that fatal night.

Watch the full story on "20/20" Friday at 10 p.m. ET.

For many people, the dangers associated with drunken driving remain a matter of dry facts: More than 13,000 people die in alcohol-related road accidents in the United States each year.

But for Rasdall and teens like her, drunken driving is not only a statistic but the sobering and deadly reality that, in an instant, their reckless behavior took the lives of other human beings.

For Part 1 of Rasdall's story, click HERE.

As she awaited trial on charges of DUI-manslaughter after the fatal accident, Rasdall spent most days in her bedroom, surrounded by photographs of the friend whose life she had ended. On her nightstand were daily medications: anti-depressants, anti-anxiety pills, sleeping pills.

She rarely went out, she told Vargas, and when she did, her parents chauffeured her everywhere, usually to college classes at the University of South Florida. She says she hasn't driven or touched a drop of alcohol since the night of the crash.

Rasdall's therapist, Dr. Kim Costello, said Rasdall suffers not only from post-traumatic stress disorder but also from one of the worst cases of survivor's guilt that she has ever diagnosed. As part of Rasdall's therapy and recovery, the two came up with a plan for her to share her story through public speaking, warning others of the dangers of drunken driving.

For two years, as her criminal case lingered, Rasdall gave speech after speech in schools and community centers, eventually talking to more than 15,000 people. "I began to see Jessica evolve and come back out of her shell," Costello told "20/20." "You can't be insincere and touch this many people. She's changing lives."

Rasdall's speeches also generated a lot of publicity and goodwill, the kind that could influence a judge and a jury. But the victim's parents, Rod and Helen Gorman, and their supporters, including Mothers Against Drunk Driving, were convinced the speeches were a charade.

"Jessica's doing absolutely everything she can to mitigate her sentence," said the prosecutor in the case, Assistant State Attorney Rohom Khonsari. "And the Gormans absolutely feel that this is something that's calculated, that it's not genuine."