montanaro_father_and_son

Albert Montanaro Jr. and his son Albert Montanaro III, who was killed by a drunk driver in 2006. Mr. Montanaro died in October 2011.

By ASHLEIGH LIVINGSTON

It's been said that time heals all wounds; Nora Montanaro isn't convinced of that, but she is sure that out of bad must come good.

For Nora, her husband, Albert "Al" R. Montanaro Jr., and their three sons, the bad began on Monday, Jan. 16, 2006.

That day, while many Americans celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a vehicle struck and killed Nora and Al's eldest son, Albert R. Montanaro III, while he was jogging in the grass along Route 373 in Port Kent near the Montanaro's Ausable Chasm home.

"When most people think of MLK Day, they think of King's famous 'I have a dream' speech," Nora said in an email to the Press-Republican. "MLK Day was when all our dreams ended."

CONVICTION

Twenty-year-old Albert had recently placed 19th in the state on the New York State Trooper test and was jogging that day to prepare his body to be a law-enforcement officer.

The driver of the vehicle that struck Albert, Steven R. Baker, was determined by police to have been drunk behind the wheel at the time of the collision.

Baker eventually pleaded guilty to second-degree manslaughter for his involvement in Albert's death but not before being convicted of the same crime at trial and winning an appeal granting him a second trial.

Baker waived his right to the new trial when he pleaded guilty to the charge against him, and he was sentenced to 2 ⅓ to 7 years in state prison.

But the Montanaros found little comfort in the punishment of their son's killer. They had hoped Baker would be charged with murder in Albert's death and found his prison sentence to be inappropriately short.

'GREAT SORROW'

In addition to the immense emotional blow to the Montanaro family, Albert's death and the legal proceedings surrounding it took a great toll on Al's physical health, Nora said.

In the period following Albert's death, she said, her husband suffered a series of heart attacks and strokes.

Then, on Oct. 23, 2011, Nora's beloved husband, whom she affectionately refers to as "Lovie," passed away.

Baker was paroled from prison two days before Al's death, having served two-thirds of his sentence.

Just one day before his death, Al wrote a letter to the Press-Republican, expressing his objection to Baker's release.

"It is with great sorrow that I must report that Steven Baker was released from prison this week," he wrote.

"Research indicates that parents who lose children because of criminal activity lose as much as 16 years off their own lives because of stress and heartache. Surely, those who kill these children should spend at least 16 years in prison."

SHARING THE STORY

This year, Nora was forced to face the six-year anniversary of her son's death without her husband by her side.

But despite the gaping hole in her heart, which she knows might never be filled, Nora is determined to see something truly beautiful result from the tragedies.

"I have a crazy, intense desire to make something good happen," she said in an interview at her home.

For the past three years, Nora has been telling the story of Albert's death at Stop DWI Victims' Impact Panels.

Participating at those events are individuals who have been convicted of drinking and driving, and she hopes that sharing Albert's story with them might deter them from potentially causing another unnecessary death.

LOBBYING FOR LAW

Nora also hopes to see laws changed, so that anyone who causes another's death while driving on a suspended license would automatically be charged with murder.

"I feel that (in) New York state, (if) you kill with a suspended license, it should be automatically murder.

"That is a law I think might change in my lifetime," she said. "I hope that changes in my lifetime."

THE RIGHT THING

But in the meantime, Nora refuses to forget the type of people her husband and son were.

Al was a very romantic man and a lover of words, she said. Every Friday, he would give her a gift.

And Albert, she said, in addition to being brilliant, was a wholly good person.

"The kid always did the right thing. That's what he wanted to do — the right thing."

Nora hopes to inspire others to be like her son and often reminds people that they should also do the right thing.

"We need more Alberts in the world," she said.

Scholarship funds have been created in both Al's and Albert's names.

The Albert R. Montanaro III Memorial Scholarship at TD Banknorth in Keeseville is given annually to at least one student from AuSable Valley High School, Nora said.

She explained that the student selected to receive the scholarship is usually an athlete and "usually a shining star who is humble and unassuming like Albert."

The scholarship in Al's name is through Institutional Advancement at Plattsburgh State, as he taught at the college for nearly 50 years.

FINDING COMFORT

Nora said she struggles to find forgiveness for the man who killed Albert, but it's something she hopes to one day achieve.

"I don't want to be angry for the rest of my life," she said.

She is able to take comfort in the thought of her husband and son, now together in heaven.

Further comfort comes from her other sons, Tom, 23, and Lawrence "Domo," 19.

"I am blessed beyond measure to have my boys," she said. "Without them, I would have nothing. They inspire me because they are so kind, compassionate, protective and brilliant.

"They lift me up when I cannot. They fill my heart with joy when it seems empty."

Email Ashleigh Livingston at: alivingston@pressrepublican.com

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