Nearly seven years ago, 16-year-old Todd Stansfield was behind the wheel of his car when it smashed into another vehicle on a rural, two-lane road in Douglas County. Four people died. Stansfield lived. And ever since he put pen to paper after the crash, he’s been trying to use the power of his words to make sense of that horrific night.

May 2011

By mid 2005, the case was still hung up in court and there was no resolution in sight. Were Todd’s case to go to trial, Gilchrist’s blood-alcohol content could be admitted in court. Ivan and Sherri had taken the Douglas County sheriff’s investigative findings to the media and now were openly criticizing forensic work on the case. Juvenile justice groups jumped in, too, organizing protests outside the courthouse during Todd’s hearings and circulating a petition against prosecuting him as an adult. A similar case in Jefferson County in 2003—in which a 16-year-old killed three friends and injured nine others—resulted in 12 years of probation.

In August 2005, 14 months after the wreck, prosecutors and Todd’s attorney reached a deal. Todd would plead guilty to two felony counts of criminally negligent homicide—one for the deaths of the three boys, and one for the death of Marvin Gilchrist—but he would avoid prison. He would serve 90 days in a juvenile jail, 12 years of probation, and complete 1,200 hours of community service.

Gilchrist’s family was outraged. For months, they’d advocated that Todd be tried as an adult. They’d gotten friends to write letters saying the boy should pay for his crime. Now their father was being treated as the reason for the wreck. They felt like pariahs, having to be led through a back door of the courthouse to avoid protesters who showed up for the sentencing on September 16.

Inside the courtroom that day, Todd wore Tony’s orange short-sleeved shirt. Before the sentencing, Todd stood and tried to apologize to the families. He broke down. Instead, he faced the judge. “I’m so sorry for all the pain and suffering this accident caused,” Todd sobbed. “I know this has been stressful on victims’ families. I’m so sorry.... I think about them every day.”

On his first night in jail, Todd was put into an 8-by-11 cell. When he was allowed to, he would write with the nub of a pencil:

I wake today with hopes for a better tomorrow / A day when the sky will be painted by God’s blushing sunrise / A day when worry will be limited by the very happiness I seek / A day many dream of and few ever experience / A day when I will be healed from these self-inflicted wounds.

Todd kept up with his classwork and graduated in May 2006 (his plea agreement prevented him from walking during graduation ceremonies), then he enrolled at Metropolitan State College of Denver where he studied business. Every day, he’d ride public transportation home, where he’d study, write, and check in with his probation officer—four times each night—before he went to bed. His mother worried about him. Shortly after Todd’s 21st birthday, when a court-mandated driving restriction was lifted, Maryanne told her son that he should drive the family car around the neighborhood with her. Todd was uneasy, but he made it a mile before returning to the driveway. He handed his mother the keys.

“That was good,” Maryanne said. “What did you think?”

“I think I’m fine, Mom.”

Todd drove infrequently after that, and rarely more than a few miles from home.

By the spring of 2009, Todd had finished college. His sister, Lindsay, had already invited Todd to live with her in New York. His mother pushed the idea, but it wasn’t until October of that year that Todd got clearance to transfer his supervision. In New York, he’d have to have regular urine tests and occasional strip searches. He’d also have a 9 p.m. curfew. Todd couldn’t wait to move.