Visitors to ‘Jackass’ star’s roadside vigil see firsthand ‘what drinking and driving can do.’
By Mary J. DiMeglio
WEST GOSHEN, Pennsylvania — Visitors who came in droves to the stretch of highway where Ryan Dunn’s life ended said the deaths of the “Jackass” star and his passenger on Monday serve as a shocking warning that even someone as seemingly immortal as the daredevil couldn’t survive the risk of drinking and driving.
“I hope a lot of kids in the community will see what happened to their role model. Maybe this sends a signal that you’re not indestructible,” said a West Goshen police officer, a father of two teens.
Laraine Livergood of Collegeville brought her three children to the crash site Wednesday night. “It shows what drinking and driving can do,” she said. Daughter Valerie, a 15-year-old “Jackass” fan, called Dunn’s death “heartbreaking.” She and her two sisters, ages 11 and 8, taped a bright-orange poster board to the guardrail with the words, “RIP Ryan Dunn. We love you forever and always.”
Accident-reconstruction teams have estimated that at around 2:30 a.m. Monday, Dunn, who a preliminary toxicology report shows was intoxicated, was driving his 2007 Porsche 911 GT3 between 132 and 140 mph in a 55 mph zone. The Porsche collided with a guardrail and went soaring through about 40 yards of trees before hitting one and bursting into flames.
Dunn’s family and friends, including “Jackass” stars Bam Margera and Johnny Knoxville, attended a private memorial service on Wednesday. A public service is expected to be announced at a later date.
A steady stream of fans, friends, family and those who are “just curious” have been stopping by at all times of day and night, police officer Joseph Burt said, displaying their love for the merry prankster with flowers, balloons, candles and dozens of Sharpie-scribbled messages on the guardrail.
To ensure visitors’ safety, officials were watching over the portion of the highway near the roadside vigil, which had been narrowed to one lane in each direction.
West Chester East High School student Tori Williams, 15, said that even though she knows accidents happen all the time, visiting the crash site left her shaken. “It makes me more scared to be a driver,” she said.
The scene is disturbing: Skid marks on the highway lead to a long stretch of mangled trees that ends with a single, sturdy tree, blackened from top to bottom but still standing.
Joni Bradshaw, of West Chester, said she hopes young people learn a lesson from the tragedy: “Hopefully, it will teach these kids that you can’t get behind the wheel and drive [after you've been drinking],” she said. “It causes nothing but problems and heartache for everyone.”
Much to her dismay, her 18-year-old son, Will Bradshaw, said, “At least he went out having fun.” Will admitted that even after a couple of his friends were killed while street racing three years ago, he and the rest of his peers have not been more careful when driving and probably won’t be after this incident either. “People are gonna do what they’re gonna do,” he said matter-of-factly.
Chrissy Guthan, of Coatesville, agreed: “They shouldn’t have been driving [drunk]. People do it all the time though. We’ve all done it,” the 32-year-old confessed. “Sometimes, you don’t make it back.” Now that she’s a mother, Guthan added, she avoids risky behavior. “But if I didn’t have a kid, I’d probably still be doing it,” she admitted.
According to the Chester County coroner’s office, Dunn’s blood alcohol level was .196, more than twice the .08 legal limit in Pennsylvania. The report also says there were no “drugs of abuse” detected in Dunn’s system.
The coroner’s report lists blunt force trauma and thermal trauma as the official causes of death for Dunn, 34, and his passenger, 30-year-old Iraq war vet Zachary Hartwell, who was credited as a production assistant on “Jackass Number Two” and was working with Dunn on his new G4 show, “Proving Ground.”
Hours before the crash, Dunn tweeted a photo of himself, Hartwell and another man at Barnaby’s of America, a West Chester bar.
The Philadelphia Inquirer reported Wednesday that Dunn received at least 23 driving-related citations in the past 13 years, 90 percent of which ended in guilty pleas, including 10 stops for speeding and careless driving and three more for driving with a suspended license. In 2005, he was arrested for drunken driving, but charges were dropped when he completed a probationary program; his license was suspended for more than a year, according to court records.
“He drove too fast,” April Margera, mother of Dunn’s best friend and “Jackass” co-star Bam Margera, told the local NBC station Monday. “I yelled at him all the time about that.”