A Crash Course from the Heart

The death of her twin sister spurred Cara Filler to warn of the dangers of reckless driving
Times Argus, The (Montpelier-Barre, VT)
November 3, 2009
by Stefan Hard

MARSHFIELD – Cara Filler had them laughing one minute, and crying the next. To listen to her story, that’s kind of how life can go if you don’t make the right choices.

Filler, now 33 and speaking at schools around the country, tells the story of her twin sister, Mairin, who, moments after enjoying the bubbly, carefree atmosphere of teenagers shopping at the mall, was killed in a horrific car crash on what was the day after the twins’ 18th birthdays.

On Monday, Filler told her story at Twinfield Union School in Marshfield, in front of an audience of about 500 students from Twinfield, Cabot School, Danville School, and U-32 High School.

Filler was brought to Twinfield in part by the Vermont Teen Leadership and Safety Program and by the schools themselves. Twinfield principal Owen Bradley said he thought Filler’s “positive, empowering” message would connect with students at his small, rural K-12 school, where six students in 10 years have been lost in car crashes, including, most recently, in June.

Filler, microphone in hand, striding up and down the rows of students, spoke of her closeness to her twin sister and their happy childhood in British Columbia. On the last day they spent together, Filler said she remembers seeing her sister Mairin leave the mall where they went after school and whiz by her in the passenger seat of Mairin’s boyfriend’s car.

“I yelled, ‘loser!’ to her; and a couple of other choice words I won’t repeat here,” Filler said, recounting the fun-loving taunts made from one sister to another, words that she wouldn’t have chosen if she knew they would be the last her sister would ever hear from her.

“She died three blocks from the mall; at 3:30 p.m. on a Monday,” said Filler.

“You think,” said Filler, “that it’s never going to happen to you. Well, it didn’t. It happened to my sister.”

Filler’s sister had chosen that day to catch a ride with her new boyfriend in his small car fitted with a tuned suspension and a radar detector, a car that folded in half when, going an estimated 110 m.p.h. in a 30 mph zone, it crossed the centerline and slammed into a larger oncoming car. Filler was only two blocks away, and when she arrived at the scene, EMTs, fearing her reaction, strapped her into an ambulance stretcher to tell her the news that her twin sister had died in the car. The boyfriend lost a tooth and broke an elbow in the crash.

“I won’t call it an accident,” said Filler. “An accident is when you stub a toe, or trip over a bleacher; my sister made a choice to be in that car and her boyfriend made a choice (to be reckless).

Filler recalls that the boyfriend never apologized to her family, choosing to blame supposed defects with his car.

His punishment: 15 days in jail and a $150 fine. For Filler, her sentence was a life of emotional pain and anger dealing with the untimely loss of her sister, and the break-up of her family that resulted.

“In some ways, Mairin was lucky,” said Filler. “She didn’t see our family destroyed, my parents break up after 22 years of marriage, my sister Bonnie dropping out of high school.” Filler said Bonnie shunned her surviving sister after “I became a big, over-protective bag.”

Just weeks from attending college, Filler dropped her plans to attend.

“Mairin was supposed to be my maid of honor at my wedding,” said Filler. In the audience, there were some wiping away tears, some students sobbed into their hands.

Filler’s voice broke when she recalled giving a similar presentation at a West Virginia school where four girls were killed in a car crash, and a male student gave her a bracelet engraved with their names.

Careful not to drown herself or her audience in tears, Filler many times turned away from the darkness of her sister’s tragedy to recall the fun of childhood with Mairin, their physical awkwardness at being 6-foot tall 11-year olds, the pranks the twins would play, taking advantage of their nearly identical looks to confuse boyfriends and mall patrons, the over-the-top fashion faux-pas made by teenagers growing up in the 80s.

Filler showed a slide show of images from their family album, all hinting at a normal, bright future for two happy, healthy, increasingly pretty girls – until two final images appeared showing the crumpled car and a memorial flower arrangement.

“There are two drugs I want you to know about that are in your schools,” said Filler, “that are more powerful and dangerous than any others. They are peer pressure, and, testosterone.”

Filler describe how peer pressure and testosterone can cause teens to do silly, incomprehensible (to adults) things that are essentially harmless, and the students in the audience seemed to know exactly what Filler was talking about.

“You know, when guys go down the hall grunting and mooning people,” said Filler to a roar of laughter from the students.

But, Filler said, the two “drugs” can also lead to reckless, life-threatening behavior disguised as fun, without thought of consequences. When that happens, said Filler, there are two options.

Option One: Don’t put yourself at risk, she said. Don’t ride with someone who is under the influence or acting crazy. Drop their keys in the tank of the nearest toilet. Call your parents, or a friend to pick you up. Make excuses.

Lie if you have to. And if you find yourself in the car with someone being dangerous, get out. Make excuses, lie, give an Oscar-worthy performance.

“I call it the three P’s,” said Filler, who proceeded, in a hilarious manner, to describe the acting techniques required to convince a dangerous driver that you need to be let out of the car, immediately, because you are about to pee your pants, puke in the car, or have your period; the three P’s.

Filler then gave acting lessons on how to avoid punishment when parents arrive to pick up a student who had extracted themselves from a dangerous situation. “And here’s the key,” said Filler, “Say, (switching to a near-hysterical, crying teenage voice) ‘And I don’t know what would have happened if you hadn’t come!’ Guilt works on parents. Do what you have to. Stick up for your friends, stand up for yourself.”

“And I’m here today fighting for you,” said Filler. “Believe me,” she said, “I’m not here to take fun out of the equation for you, I’m here to help you have a good time, but safely.” Filler thanked the students for being attentive, respectful listeners.

“As corny as it sounds, if just one of you comes away from today’s presentation with something, it means that Mairin didn’t die for nothing. Thank you.”

Filler takes her message today to Spaulding High School in Barre, and to Hazen Union School in Hardwick on Friday.

Copyright, 2009, The Times Argus