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Man sentenced for molesting boys decades after crimes happened in and around Wilmington

Published: Jan. 12, 2022 at 11:46 AM EST
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - A judge sentenced Peter Drutchal to 30 years in prison Wednesday, after Drutchal pled guilty to sex crimes he committed against Wilmington children. He also pleaded guilty to the aggravating factor of taking advantage of a position of trust or confidence to commit the offenses. The crimes happened over a span of several years in the 1970s and 1980s, but the now-adult victims only recently came forward.

John Stawicki, one of the men who survived Drutchal’s abuse, says he was inspired to pursue charges after seeing the young men come forward who had been abused by former New Hanover County Schools Teacher of the Year, Mike Kelly. Stawicki says he watched WECT’s four-part special on the school sex scandal in August 2020.

“I liked how you did that story, and you gave a very empathetic depiction of what had happened and their side of the story, and so I figured that would be a good place to start,” Stawicki said. Stawicki also put WECT in touch with a second victim from Wilmington, Steve Guertin, who now lives out of state, and corroborated Stawicki’s story. The offenses against Guertin were also included in Wednesday’s plea deal.

Stawicki lived with the pain of the abuse for years. Drutchal had served as his Boy Scout High Adventure leader and substitute teacher for New Hanover County Schools. Drutchal later broke off from the Boy Scouts to form his own youth program, borrowing the name High Adventure for his private business. Stawicki is now convinced Drutchal’s sole purpose for leading High Adventure was to gain access to young boys.

“He would always say you don’t want the stupid [Boy Scout] badges,” Stawicki said, “but he told my dad it was so he would have his pick of the kids in the group. Otherwise, he would have to take every kid that applied. And so if you make it private and separate, he could pick the kids.”

Stawicki joined the Boy Scout High Adventure program when he was 11, and followed Drutchal when he branched off to start his own program. Drutchal would frequently lead trips taking kids camping, hiking, canoeing and kayaking. Stawicki said Drutchal was known to take boys off by themselves in the woods.

“He was most of the time the only adult on the trip. The other chaperones would be like older 18-, 19-year-old kids,” Stawicki recalled. “And [Drutchal] was only maybe 26- or 27-years-old — something like that. He would make the sleeping arrangements in the tents and also the order. All the way down to that. And talking about that as kids drew some red flags with a lot of parents who then took their kids out of the program.”

Guertin first met Drutchal when he was working as a substitute teacher at Guertin’s middle school. Drutchal then invited Guertin to join his adventure program, where the abuse against began. As pre-teens, Stawicki and Guertin struggled to process what was happening to them, and the abuse continued for years.

“In the middle of the night on several occasions, boys would get up and go and start a campfire on their own and sit out there,” Stawicki said. “It was like, is this normal?” Stawicki recalls Drutchal telling him the behavior wasn’t “gay, it was just what friends do.”

Decades after the abuse, 54-year-old Stawicki says he’s still traumatized. The experience at the hands of someone he trusted changed the trajectory of his life. He says he’s now on disability because of the mental toll Drutchal’s abuse had on him.

“I just compartmentalized it as best as I could,” Stawicki explained. “And it was always there — always there. So you’re like thinking about something or doing something and doing a little project, but it’s always there. And, it’s just like this little film strip or something going in the background playing over and over again. I just tried to make sure no one knew about it more than anything because I was ashamed of it, or whatever, like I had done something wrong.”

When Stawicki was in his late teens, Drutchal suddenly left town. In 1989, he moved north, first to New York and then to Vermont where he founded Adventure Quest, an outdoor summertime leadership camp for youth. According to court records and published reports, Drutchal sexually abused two of his students there and later served prison time for the crimes. He had been released on parole when the charges from Wilmington finally caught up with him, and he was arrested at his home last November.

Others say they were abused, too

After Wilmington Police had Dreutchel arrested in Vermont, and our story on the arrest published, WECT was contacted by Druetchal’s former stepson in Vermont. Dylan Boyd said he, too, had been molested by Drutchal, after Drutchal met him at an outdoor adventure camp in New York, and then followed him to Vermont where Drutchal convinced Boyd’s mother to marry him. His mother is now convinced Drutchal’s true intentions were to get close to her sons.

With his unique understanding of the pain of Drutchal’s abuse, Boyd asked WECT to share his contact information with the Wilmington victims.

“I knew that I was probably sort of farther along whatever that process was, and John and Steve, more than anything I wanted to be able to say, ‘Look, you are not the only one, there’s lots that we can talk about and not only do you and I have the same trauma background, we have the same trauma background with the same man. Like, we should be talking,’” Boyd explained of his desire to connect with others who’d been abused by Drutchal.

“I don’t mean to make it sound like trading war stories [but] it’s probably exactly like that. It’s another kind of trauma that you can say, ‘Yes, this happened. And it happened to me.’ And just hearing somebody else say that is incredibly validating. It’s the thing that’s omitted when [the abuse is] happening. You’re intentionally isolated so that you think this is only happening to me, and that’s why I can’t talk about it, that’s why I can’t come forward about it,” Boyd added.

Boyd, Drutchal’s Wilmington victims, and others who say Drutchal molested them in Vermont have formed a support group of sorts, with some of them even flying to Wilmington to sit with Stawicki as he had his day in court.

A potential life sentence

Drutchal is now in his late 60s. He pleaded guilty to three counts of taking indecent liberties with children, and three counts of attempted first-degree statutory sex offense. He will be required to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life. If Drutchal is still alive when he becomes eligible for parole, Stawicki says he will work to make sure Drutchal stays behind bars so he can never hurt another child again.

“[The 30 year sentence] realistically guarantees that he’s not going to do it again. And that’s the biggest thing,” Stawicki told WECT. “I know he’s not going do it to me again. But he’s not going to do it to another kid. Which is the most important thing at this point. I can’t change what he did [to me]. He’s going to prison for it — that’s something — but I don’t really care about that. I care that he’s not doing what he does which is go out, establish a business, and recruit little kids and manipulate parents, and wreck their lives and families.”

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