By Emmy Liederman
The last thing Anthony Galante remembers is calling his friend for a ride home. When he woke up, the whole month of December had passed by.
“The doctors thought I was going to be a vegetable,” he said. “They thought if I was going to live, I would be in a wheelchair for the rest of my life.”
On Dec. 2, 2018, Galante’s life changed forever. His fraternity brother, Mike Sot, who was the designated driver for a party that night, was hit by an alleged drunk driver who crossed the center line and struck his car head-on. The crash killed Sot two days later and left four students, including Galante, in the hospital, some in worse condition than others.
“I didn’t find out Mike passed away until the end of January,” Galante said. “I was shocked. I couldn’t believe it.”
According to Casey DeBlasio, the public relations officer at the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office, the case remains pending and the defendant continues to await a court date. As the driver awaits his court hearing, students at the College are still healing from the night that sent shockwaves through campus.
“Just recently, we had the one-year anniversary of the accident,” said Eric Struble, a senior history and secondary education dual major who was the fraternity president of Phi Kappa Psi at the time of the crash. “Delta Zeta girls came over, who had a sister that was injured in the crash, and we ordered food and had everyone hang out for a couple hours. We lit some lanterns and set them off in honor of Mike. It was really nice.”
Brothers of Phi Kappa Psi, as well as Sot’s family, have teamed up with the HERO campaign, an organization that works to put an end to drunk driving. The campaign calls designated drivers like Sot, who just wanted to safely take his friends home from a party, “HEROES of the evening, helping to keep us all safe.”
The HERO campaign has displayed two billboards in New Jersey, which feature a photo of Sot and the words, “Be a HERO. Be a Designated Driver.”
“We are currently planning a 5k with the HERO campaign, which will probably be sometime in April,” Struble said. “We’re still working on the details, but we wanted to work on that just to get everyone together to remember Mike and to continue to spread awareness.”
Andrew Keenan, a senior communication studies major and Phi Kappa Psi brother, shared that since the crash, he and his fraternity brothers are much more likely to be proactive in stopping drunk drivers.
“There was already a zero-tolerance policy with drinking and driving, but now it’s kind of just exemplified,” he said. “Whether it happened at one of our parties or somewhere else, if we saw someone drinking and then attempting to drive, I think we are way more inclined to step up since we had to deal with the repercussions first hand. Now that we’ve seen the effects. I hope that a situation like this really shows people that in any aspect of life, when people are doing something that’s really wrong like drinking and driving, to stand up and say something.”
Friends and family are also keeping his spirit alive with custom “Live Like Sot” shirts. Struble estimated that the fraternity has sold over 400 shirts to both students at the College and residents of Sot’s hometown of Clark, N.J.
Giancarlo Santo, a junior finance major who was one of Sot’s closest friends, said the slogan is meant to remind people to care for each other the way Sot did.
“You could take him aside and talk to him about any issue you were having, and he was there for that,” Santo said. “He would always sit there with a smile on his face and make everyone happy. It sounds cliche, but that was literally who he was.”
Struble echoed Santo’s words, sharing that the phrase keeps the brothers grounded and Sot’s memory alive.
“When we decided to make the ‘Live Like Sot’ shirts, we didn’t just throw that phrase on there for no reason,” he said. “He really was a selfless person. We still talk about it today. We always try to remind each other to ‘Live Like Sot’ and remember what he was all about.”
Following the crash, the brothers remember feeling a strong sense of support from the college community — people that they didn’t even know dropped off food, flowers and piles of cards, sometimes with no name on them.
Even over a year after the tragedy, they shared that this support has not wavered, specifically from administrative staff like Jordan Draper, the assistant vice president for student affairs and the dean of students.
“When a crash at Rowan happened, Jordan Draper just gave me a call out of the blue just because she thought it might bring up memories,” said Santo. “They’ve been really on top of it. It gave me a new perspective on TCNJ Administration.”
Although the crash is no longer the subject of major news source headlines, Sot’s memory remains in the hearts of many students at the College.
“He was legitimately one of the nicest people I’ve ever met, and I’m not just saying that,” Keenan said. “Sometimes you’re in the room with people and talking about certain people behind their back. That’s just the nature of college. He would never take part in any of that. We were fans of the same sports team, so he would always come to my house and we would watch games together. He was really into it. Now sometimes when I’m watching games, I’ll think of him and how he would have reacted to it. These are not just qualities we are saying about him because he’s not here anymore. I think they are legitimate things that were true to him and things we would’ve said straight to his face.”
After the crash, Galante spent three months in full-time treatment and ended up in Kessler Rehabilitation Center of West Orange, N.J., with his fraternity brother Ryan Moore, who was a senior at the time. One of Galante’s first memories following the crash was on Jan. 6, when all of his brothers showed up at the center to surprise him for his birthday.
“I was so happily surprised,” he said. “It just showed how much they were there for me.”
Galante is now back at school pursuing a health and exercise science major, which he said was inspired by his own journey. Although the doctors did not have high hopes for Galante, and he still wakes up in the morning with pain, he was able to make an incredible recovery.
“I had a goal in mind to walk out of there with no wheelchair, and I did it,” he said. “I’m still trying to prove everyone wrong.”