Five years ago today, October 17, at 2:00 A.M., Gil and I awoke to a phone call that no family ever wants to receive. It was my mother, sobbing and trying to tell me that my sister had been trying to call me. Gil and I had slept right through the quietly ringing cell phone. I couldn’t understand much of what my mother was saying but what I was able to understand sent a shockwave through my system. It went something like this, “Dee was in an accident and she’s been killed.” My mother tried to relay the details to me but she was just so upset. I hung up and called my sister to get more information.
Dee was my 20 year old cousin. She was the only daughter of my first cousin, Denise. She had a brother, Cole, who was less than a year her junior and I can tell you that very few brothers and sisters were as close as these two children. Dee and I had never really had a chance to foster a close relationship due to the 16 year age difference, and the fact that we never really lived very close to each other. However, even though Dee and I weren’t extremely close, our family in general was. Her mom, Denise, was as much a sister to me as my own flesh and blood sister has been.
The phone call with my sister left me reeling and in complete disbelief. Dee and her boyfriend were on a dark and desolate country road, around midnight, when a physical fight broke out between them. At some point, she ended up in the road and was hit by a car. She was killed almost instantly.
The family had gathered at the hospital but none of them were able to say goodbye. Dee was already gone. My sister passed the phone to Dee’s mother but I had no idea what to say. I’m sure I said I’m sorry. I’m sure I told her I loved her. I’m sure I told her I would be home as soon as I could make arrangements. She was very clearly shaken and probably still in shock, and to be honest, so was I.
In the hours, days and weeks after the accident, there were all kinds of stories, misinformation, and rumors floating around my small home town. It was so hard to hear the rumors and even harder to figure out what to believe, since only two people were on that road that night, and one of them will never be able to tell her story. For years my family has waited for answers. For justice.
Three years after the accident, in June 2009, a grand jury returned an indictment for manslaughter against the boyfriend. The driver of the car never saw her and to our knowledge, was never suspected of any wrong doing. He was as much a victim as Dee, wrong place, wrong time. I remember the exact date I found out we had gotten the indictment. I remember it because I was in Mexico when I got the news, and it was the morning of my wedding day.
For months after we waited for a court date. That date came and went, as did many others, as continuances were granted time and time again. For two years we’ve waited. We’ve gotten our hopes up and been devastated over and over as the man accused of taking our beloved Dee continued to live his life as if nothing had ever happened. Then, a few months ago, the judge granted the defense a final continuance. However, this was granted with conditions. He would call a special session and this case would be tried, no matter what. Dee’s mom was told the date.
Our family would face the man accused of taking her from us on the anniversary of her death. I asked Dee’s mom and brother how they felt upon hearing that news and they both gave me the same answer. “We feel hopeful it’s a sign that we’ll finally get some justice for her and that we’ll finally be able to let her rest in peace.” They actually both thought it was the perfect date. I shared their thoughts except that I felt this stifling sense of empathy for what they will both be dealing with on that day. My heart ached so much for them and the idea of what they’ll be feeling as we enter the courtroom.
As I sit here typing this post, I can’t help but be apprehensive. I’m terrified we’ll get to court tomorrow and there’ll be another ploy to delay. I’m terrified there won’t be any delays and a jury will be selected and we’ll begin to hear testimony. I’m terrified for what we’ll hear and see. I’m terrified for my family and how we’ll handle the stress of waiting for a verdict. I’m terrified of that verdict. Guilty. Not guilty. Either way, we’ll finally have our closure. We’ll never have our Dee back, but her mom and brother will know that they have fought the hardest fight they could for her. They have given her everything for the last five years. Even if the jury returns with a not guilty verdict, I think Dee’s mom and brother will have no regrets in how they’ve lived their lives with the sole purpose of finding justice for their Dee.
When asked to explain how all of this has affected her life, Denise wrote the following passage and shared it with me.
What life? It has been a living hell since that night, but how do you explain having your soul ripped from your body? There is the physical pain from not eating like I should, but you don’t have an appetite so what do you do? Your body aches from not resting properly, not sleeping because you close your eyes and all you see is your beautiful daughter – the first time giving birth, or you picture her sitting under the Christmas tree tearing into her presents or as she graduates from high school.
I have been blessed with a wonderful family, without them I could not have gotten this far. My parents have stood by my side every step I have taken, without them who knows where I would be today.
And then there is my son, Cole. He has truly been my strength, the force that has kept me grounded and pushing through each day. I know he has and continues to make sacrifices for me, without hesitation. And my friends, I have learned who is truly my friend. Their words of encouragement is something I need every day. Some days though even with all of this support, I simply want to pull the covers over my head and just say to heck with it all. It is at this time I pray for justice to be done and with any luck it will be.
For more information, here’s an article from today’s local paper written by reporter Matt Elofson.