Teens’ Close Call in Head-On Crash

Tracy Stoloff with her daughter Ella
Tracy Stoloff with her daughter Ella, who was injured in a head-on collision on Feb. 19, caused by an allegedly drunken driver. T. E. McMorrow

    On Feb. 19 at about 9:20 p.m., a 2009 Toyota driven by a 17-year-old Ross School student, Gabrielle Ment, was hit head-on by a 2012 Jeep headed the wrong way on Montauk Highway in Sagaponack, according to Southampton Town police. The driver of the Jeep, Renee J. Despins, 68, of Bridgehampton, was arrested and charged with driving while intoxicated. Both cars were totaled.
    Ella Stoloff, 17, of Montauk, a fellow Ross student and a friend of Ms. Ment’s, was in the passenger seat of the Toyota. “Me and Gabby were driving east on 27 between Bridge and East,” she said Tuesday. “We were headed to a friend’s house when suddenly the car in front of us swerves to the side and all I see is headlights coming right at me. There was no time to react. There was nothing we could do.”
    “I don’t remember the impact,” said Ms. Stoloff, who had a broken shoulder and facial lacerations. “The next thing I knew, I was looking through the shattered glass.”
    Police said Ms. Despins, an associate real estate broker who deals in luxury properties for Corcoran Group, told them that she didn’t remember what happened and was not aware that she had struck a vehicle.
    “I don’t believe she was intoxicated, based on my preliminary investigation,” Theodore M. Scharfenberg, an attorney representing Ms. Despins, said. Regarding her apparent failure to remember striking another vehicle or the events leading up to the crash, he said, “She was injured. She was knocked out cold. She broke a leg, a fractured sternum.”
    After the accident, Ms. Ment could not get the driver’s door open.
    “Gabby looked at me and saw the blood,” Ms. Stoloff said. “She climbed out of her window and ran to the other side of the car to help me out.” With the aid of a passer-by, they were able to pull Ms. Stoloff to safety. All three women were taken to Southampton Hospital for treatment.
    In addition to D.W.I., Ms. Despins was charged with three moving violations. She was issued a ticket for a court appearance Wednesday.
    “I think the whole drunk driving thing is out of control,” Tracy Stoloff, Ella’s mother, said. The problem, she said, is not the kids. “From the time they’re 13, we tell them about zero tolerance for drinking and driving. These girls know the drill; they know the risk.”
    The problem, she said, is the older generations. “These are not little country roads here where you can wrap yourself around a tree and nobody gets hurt.”
    She also suggested that a double standard exists for more affluent offenders. “People get slapped on the wrist with a fine and then they are released. There’s this whole business of attorneys out here who get people off with a D.U.I.”
    “This is a good person,” Mr. Scharfenberg said on behalf of Ms. Despins. “I don’t think she was intoxicated.”
    Ms. Stoloff intends to be present at Ms. Despins’s appearance in Southampton Town Justice Court on Wednesday.