Monica Yant Kinney | Homeowner: 'These parents are cowards'

Posted: June 27, 2007

Imagine having your house ravaged by hard-drinking teenagers who doused your clothes with urine, pooped on your piano, and played catch with 10 pounds of homemade meatballs while you were away for the day.

Imagine watching the kids who got caught get off without so much as an hour of community service, a mandatory essay, or an AA meeting.

Not one of the 10 Haddonfield teens who struck plea deals last week apologized in court unprompted. Only after being nudged by a judge did two boys and one parent say, uh, sorry.

If juvenile court is supposed to provide life lessons for the young, how come it's Colleen Falasca, the 49-year-old victim in this case, who feels like she got punished?

"These parents are cowards and they're raising their kids to wiggle out of difficult situations," Falasca told me, incensed by the so-called end to the story that has captivated the region for a month.

We sat in her formal living room, just about the only spot in the house not trashed in the March beer bash attended by 60 to 80 teenagers.

She's painting the kitchen walls peach, to cover stains from the food fight. In the dining room, she points out a gouge in an antique credenza and the table now missing two busted cane-back chairs.

Behind us stands the Steinway - a $50,000 grand purchased from a concert pianist moving to Taiwan.

Beer rusted the strings. Chewing gum was smeared on World War I-era mahogany. Somehow, the pooper missed the sound board.

Among the post-party harassment she's endured? Finding used sanitary napkins on her front steps.

"I live in a house, but I don't feel like it's a home anymore."

Second thoughts

Falasca has three biological children and is legal guardian to a teenager desperate to fit in at Haddonfield's affluent suburban high school.

As she tells it, the then-14-year-old was coerced by the cool crowd to offer the house for a party, had second thoughts, but relented after a boy threatened to break in if she didn't leave the key under a mat.

"She thought it would make her popular," Falasca said, flatly. "She was wrong."

So wrong, Falasca expected the girl to be arrested and told her she'd have to fight the charges on her own - no lawyer, no rescue.

"I teach my kids to live with the consequences of their choices."

For the 14-year-old, that meant scrubbing the reeking mess, fessing up to the cops, being shunned - and threatened - at school.

"I wouldn't let her stay home," Falasca explained. "She had to face those kids."

Falasca grew up in Haddonfield and thought she knew the mindset.

Then, she got calls from three mothers whose children were at the party, but not involved in the vandalism. They wanted to apologize - anonymously, of course.

"They didn't want their kids to stand out at school as cooperating with the police."

'Don't Snitch' in 'burbs

She's heard other parents swear they'd make their kids take the lumps and pay restitution in sweat if they did anything half as bad. But after watching a half-dozen lawyers earn their fees, she doesn't buy it.

"Parents want great opportunities for their high-achieving kids and they don't like detours," she explains. "This is a detour."

It could have been if the teens hadn't scored such a sweet deal from Judge Angelo DiCamillo.

If they stay out of trouble for a year, the record disappears.

The students aren't even on the hook for the $18,000 in damages.

Falasca's $750 insurance deductible is all they owe. Split 10 ways, that's a measly $75 per kid.

"This wasn't an accident, it was malicious," she points out. "Why should my insurance company have to pay?"

Falasca cringed in court when the teens, who attend a school of just 780 students, said they couldn't identify dozens of other partygoers.

I told her it sounds like "Don't Snitch" has invaded the suburbs.

"But in the city, they're afraid for their lives," she said. "Here, what do they have to be afraid of?

The suburban fear is losing quality of life. It's about college plans, social status and cash.

No wonder the lawyers asked DiCamillo to protect their clients from having the guilty pleas used against them in a civil case. They're terrified of being sued.

But Falasca has no interest in seeing the revelers in court again.

"That," she said, "would only drag this on even longer."


Contact Monica Yant Kinney at myant@phillynews.com or 215-854-4670. Read her recent work at http://go.philly.com/yantkinney

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