Wrong Turn: The tragic story of former It Girl Amy Locane
This story ran in the July 21, 2017 issue of Entertainment Weekly.
It started out as just another ordinary day. Whenever Amy Locane speaks to students about the night she drove drunk and killed a 60-year-old wife and mother of two, the former actress of Cry-Baby and Melrose Place fame likes to preface it by sharing the rather humdrum events that led up to it: On June 27, 2010, Locane woke up in her Hopewell, N.J., home, jogged with her young girls in a double stroller, then drove to a nearby theater to participate in the closing of a community play. After celebrating at a wrap party with the cast and crew, Locane met up with her then-husband, Mark, and their two young daughters at a friends' barbecue. "I try to tell the students that it was pretty normal," explains Locane, 45. "I try to ground [the kids] with the details of anybody's day, how it seems pretty mundane, but that something intense, larger than life, can happen."
Then she gets to the part that typically makes her audience gasp: After drinking alcohol as a way to "cope with her problems," Locane drove home alone in her SUV and broadsided a Mercury Milan driven by Fred Seeman, who was making a left turn into his driveway. His wife and front-seat passenger, Helene — a New York University adjunct professor and fixture in the contemporary art world — died at the scene. Locane had a blood alcohol level of .26 — more than three times the legal limit. Police would later testify that she was found in a ditch, giggling, after the collision.
Though a jury would convict Locane of second-degree vehicular homicide and assault by an auto, Somerset County Superior Court presiding judge Robert B. Reed sentenced the actress to three out of a maximum 15 years in prison. He cited how unlikely it was that she'd ever drive drunk again and showed special concern for her daughters, the younger of whom suffers from an intestinal bowel disorder. Now Locane — who is in the process of a divorce from her husband, Mark, after seven years of marriage — is back in Hopewell, working a retail job in a home-and-garden store, living in a two-bedroom apartment, and trying to carve out a new life. "Some of the college kids I speak to are like, it's not fair because someone died," says Locane, who says she joined Alcoholics Anonymous after the collision and has been sober ever since. "I get that. It was the biggest mistake I ever made in my life. I understand how people would feel animosity toward me. It's not an easy thing to go out and talk to these kids. But they say if you reach just one person, then you have tried to make the situation a little better. I mean, it will always be a horrible situation."
"This is awkward," Locane declares as she settles into a chair inside a New York City hotel lobby. She's ready to talk about the past seven years of her life but wants to make sure her motive for granting her first full-fledged interview is not misunderstood. "I'm not looking for this as a way to get back into the business," insists Locane, who is accompanied by her current lawyer James Wronko. "We are talking about something that's incredibly sad and tragic. I think it would be sleazy to stage some sort of comeback."
While she walks and works in anonymity today, 27 years ago Locane was a promising young actress who missed her high school prom to star in a movie opposite Johnny Depp. She had already been modeling and making commercials since the age of 10, but Cry-Baby — a 1990 musical comedy about a teen rebel who falls for a rich and beautiful good girl — was the game changer that she and her stage mom, Helen, had been looking for. "The very first day, she came to rehearsal in my living room," recalls director John Waters. "She had to make out with Johnny Depp with her mother sitting there. And she fainted! I do not blame her. She was a child and we had this cast that was probably the most insane group of people ever gathered to make one movie. We had Patty Hearst, David Nelson, Traci Lords. But Amy was great, a pro through the whole thing."
Critics agreed. The New York Times said the "sweet-faced" Locane was "perfectly cast as a nice girl named Allison who's just dying to turn naughty," while EW dubbed her a "baby Ann-Margret." Other film jobs followed, including a big role as Brendan Fraser's love interest in the star-studded 1992 film School Ties, along with playing Jessica Lange and Tommy Lee Jones' daughter in 1994's Blue Sky.
But trouble began creeping in as well, with Locane adding some off-camera drama to the highly anticipated Beverly Hills, 90210 spin-off Melrose Place. Locane was part of the original 1992 cast, nabbing the part of a Southern waitress named Sandy Louise Harling on Fox's prime-time soap, but brought an attitude to the set that did not match her résumé. "She was a sweet young girl, but she overestimated her position in the business," recalls her costar Doug Savant, who played Matt Fielding. "She had an immature outlook on how the progression of her career was going to go."
Producers ended up dropping Locane after 13 episodes and brought on Daphne Zuniga (as photographer Jo Reynolds) to fill the void. The series lasted seven seasons and became a cultural phenomenon. "I came off as immature," Locane says now. "I went to an all-girls school, then I was on movie sets. So my socialization skills weren't up to par." She also believes her reputation in the industry took a hit as a result of being written off Melrose. "Things got a lot tougher after that whole debacle. I never did a TV show after that."
After another decade appearing in straight-to-DVD movies like The Heist (starring Luke Perry, Ice T, and David Faustino), Locane began to second-guess whether it was worth flying back and forth from New Jersey to Los Angeles to audition for roles that she couldn't get. "I just remember being 32 and sitting in sitcom class and staying at a friend's house, and the friend had a dog and his crazy ex-girlfriend kept bringing more dogs she rescued from the desert, and I went, 'This really isn't the life I want to be living,"' recalls Locane. "I booked a plane ticket and came back home."
Two years later, Locane settled in Hopewell and later married Mark Bovenizer, a local businessman. Their daughters, Paige and Avery, were born in 2007 and 2009, so the former movie star became a stay-at-home mom. But she never lost her desire to act, and looked for opportunities in local theater like Miss Concessions, the play Locane starred in on the day of the collision. "I was just trying to feel like myself again," she remembers, "so I signed up to do this play."
Locane stares blankly as she's asked to recall what happened that summer night on Cherry Hill Road in Montgomery Township: "I can only remember the frame of mind I was in before it happened, and then bits and pieces." She admits that most of the details of the collision didn't become clear until her criminal trial in 2012, when barbecue hosts Dr. Carlos and Rachel Sagebien told the jury Locane was under the influence of alcohol. "I don't even recall how many I had," says Locane, who didn't testify at her trial.
Locane is equally fuzzy about the approximately 15-minute ride from the barbecue to her home — such as when she rear-ended a minivan driven by Maureen Ruckelshaus at a stoplight and then fled the scene. Ruckelshaus would later testify to seeing Locaneswerve, hit a curb, and knock over a mailbox. "At trial, I found out that I had actually asked [Ruckelshaus] if she wanted to use my cell phone," recalls Locane. "From what I could gather, she was screaming, 'She's drunk, she's drunk,' and she needed a cell phone because she was going to call the cops."
If there's anything Locane does recall, it's when she woke up in a ditch after colliding with the Seemans' car. By the time police arrived five minutes later, Helene Seeman had no pulse; her husband incurred broken ribs and a punctured lung. Ruckelshaus would testify to seeing Locane exit her car and pirouette into a ditch. "I'm pretty sure I had a concussion," Locane says. As to reports that she giggled at the scene, Locane says, "I knew one of [the EMTs] was a husband of a girlfriend of mine. So I was like, 'Hi.'"
Locane's then husband, Bovenizer, still questions why Locane didn't call him to pick her up or why she didn't ask the Sagebiens to find her a ride. "That's where the failure of this whole thing happened," he says. "Mrs. Seeman would still be alive if Amy took responsible, adult steps." But he is also grateful for the defense mounted on behalf of his wife by attorneys, who argued during the two-and-a-half-month criminal trial that Ruckelshaus distracted Locane by chasing her, and said Seeman took too long to turn into his own, unlit driveway. But the jury wasn't swayed: On Nov. 27, 2012, Locane was found guilty of second-degree vehicular homicide and assault by an auto. She was immediately remanded to jail. "The worst night of my life was when I had to tell the kids that their mother wasn't coming home," recalls Bovenizer, who split with Locane in November 2015.
The judge sentenced Locane to three years in prison, making her eligible for parole after two and a half years. Fred Seeman and his son Ford were furious. In video from that day, Seeman can be heard yelling about how little time Locane would have to spend in prison. "This is not justice," he shouted. "Having a sick child doesn't give you a pass to kill my wife.... What a travesty. What a joke."
By the time of her sentencing, Locane had already acclimated herself to a new life behind bars. "I went into county jail right after I was found guilty [in November]," she recalls. "Most people get bailed out and go home and be with their family, but I decided the sooner I got in, the sooner I would get out." She passed the time by checking out books from the prison library, but she never stayed too long in one place. First, it was a gymnasium-style room with 60 other women, followed by a maximum-security area that made her feel like she was "living in Penn Station." Next came a rehabilitation section of the prison, and then an area where she helped train puppies for work in law enforcement.
She migrated to women who were also convicted for drunk driving. "In prison she was in a section for people in recovery, so that probably helped her," says Susanne Morgan, Locane's AA sponsor (who was not incarcerated with her). "She's very much a survivor. "
Locane was released from prison on June 12, 2015, but the controversy over her shortened sentence continues, and her time behind bars may not be over. On appeal, Judge Reed didn't change his original sentencing, leaving Locane a free woman and a distraught Fred Seeman to proclaim that the judge "bent over backwards to let her walk free," while promising that "this isn't over." He's right, with the case being appealed a second time by the state. (A spokesman for the Somerset County prosecutor's office declined to comment, saying it is an active case.)
That appeal is pending in the Appellate Division of New Jersey Superior Court, while a six-year-old lawsuit filed by Seeman against Locane, Bovenizer, and the couple who hosted the barbecue drags on in civil court. Seeman would not comment for this story, but the lead trial attorney in the civil suit, Raymond Silverman, says the family supports the state's actions. "While it has been a long ordeal for the Seeman family," he says, "they remain resolute in seeing Ms. Locane and any other responsible parties brought to justice."
It's a justice that Locane's legal team maintains has already been served. "Amy has always accepted responsibility for her role in the accident, which led to this tragic result," says Wronko, whose firm is handling Locane's appeal and advising her in the civil case, expected to head to trial in October. "The reality of it is, when you make arguments in criminal and civil cases, the question becomes 'Was anyone responsible as well?' "
And so, Locane waits and endures in her small Hopewell bubble, seeing her daughters every Monday and Wednesday and every other weekend while keeping herself busy by running, working, attending AA meetings, and making occasional appearances at schools arranged by the organization Steered Straight. It could be anywhere from a month to a year before Locane hears the results of the latest appeal and whether she will be heading back behind bars, and it's even harder to tell what will come of the civil trial. But Locane recognizes that she has no one to blame but herself. "If you compare my uneasiness to the enormity of what happened, no one is going to feel sorry for me."