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Fung: Fatal Crash "Is a Part of Me, it's Who I am."

"God knows why my life was spared that day and someone else's was taken."

Those were the words of Cranston Mayor Allan W. Fung to a group of reporters invited to a meeting room in the Chapel Grille restaurant Monday afternoon to address his announcement that he caused a fatal car accident on Route 95 in 1989 when he was a college freshman.

"That experience will always be a part of me and part of why I am in public service — to help others," Fung said during an emotional 30-minute press conference during which he stepped outside the room once to regain his composure. 

Fung, a three-term mayor now in the running for the Republican nomination for governor of Rhode Island, disclosed the incident to supporters in an e-mail message this morning and a detailed account of that tragic day ran on Monday in the Providence Journal. Fung requested the paper publish it after he was approached by two different people on two different occasions over the holidays asking him about the crash.

"It's a painful experience in my life and it has nothing to do with politics," Fung said. But with people asking questions, he thought there might be others who would be afraid to approach him and "when you run for governor, your life is an open book."

A forthcoming approach is also a way to avoid the incident from being used against him during the campaign, Fung acknowledged, and some of the questions he was asked recently referred to alcohol. He knew he had to set the record straight and not let the facts get distorted.

"There was no alcohol, no drugs," Fung said. "I honestly don't know what happened, it's something I've lived with all my life and something I'll continue to live with for the rest of my life. I wanted to get the truth out there, all the facts out there for the voters of the State of Rhode Island. I'm asking their support and they need to know everything about me."

What he does remember is falling unconscious behind the wheel on his way back home to his parent's house in Garden City from East Providence, where he hoped to visit his cousin. 

When he woke up, James W. Skipper, a 41-year-old Pawtucket man was lying on the road and Fung realized he had crashed. He stopped his car and got out. Police and rescue officials responded. They took him in.

"I was in shock," he said. 

He later read more details about it in the newspaper: Skipper was changing a tire on the site of Route 95. Fung had apparently veered across three lanes.  And only recently have other details surfaced in his memory, such as when he was being driven in the front seat of a State Police cruiser to the Lincoln barracks when he heard over the radio that Skipper had died.

"I just broke down," Fung said.

Fung was charged with driving to endanger, death resulting, but a grand jury did not return an indictment and the charges were dismissed. 

He later had his record expunged.

The issue never came up during his candidacies for mayor or City Council, but Fung said he did tell two journalists about the crash when he was given a questionnaire. He approached them for a face-to-face meeting and told them everything made public today. In the end, no story ever ran. It was an editorial decision, Fung said, and he didn't ask for them not to publish it.

"This is something that I didn't talk about often. It was something deeply painful and not what you'd offer right off the bat," Fung said.

Fung also said he didn't want to "dredge up bad memories" for Skipper's family.

When told that Skipper's sister, Joyce Strange, told reporters that their family has no hard feelings and understands it was an accident, Fung said "I am certainly grateful for their understanding and at the appropriate time I'll give them a call," he said, fighting back tears. "But that conversation is going to be private and personal."

Fung has also counseled another person who went through a similar situation, "to be a resource for that person, letting them know I've been there too," he said.

Fung said he hasn't had another episode during which he's lost consciousness. He was treated for a thyroid condition in his youth and that could have caused the the episode leading up to the crash, according to doctors at the time. 

"I trust the voters will have an understanding of all the facts and make an informed decision," he said.

By explaining what happened, Fung is hoping that voters will understand and accept his past. And in doing so, Fung has revealed himself to be a man his closest friends, family and political allies have known all along: he is sensitive, emotional and empathetic.

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