Wednesday, August 31, 2011

In Memory of Rachel Amaris Elliott, 1989-2008.

As I look out my window, I'm reminded that one season is about to end and another begin. Shadows seem to be growing taller earlier in the day and the garden wains in the ever decreasing sunlight.  Kids are back to school and grocery stores are beginning to flourish with Labor Day shoppers.  An unofficial end to summer, Labor Day is a time old tradition characterized by the smell of barbecues, the laughter of children playing with the cousins, mom's potato salad, a couple of cold ones, and of course the Jerry Lewis Telethon.   So, since the holiday is upon us I thought I would introduce you to a young lady who represents another side of the festivities to come this weekend. 


Rachel Amaris Elliott,  was born June 23, 1989 in Fallbrook, California to Steve and Jill Elliott.   I think what best describes the birth of Rachel is by her Father "The night of June 23, 1989 was the most wonderful night of my life.  I recognized instantly that Rachel was a miracle straight from the hands of God.  I felt the weight of responsibility as I held her in my arms.  I wanted to prove myself worthy of this priceless gift.  I made it my life's devotion to nurture and protect her".   Her father goes on to say "Rachel is a precocious child.  She began talking when she was only 7 months old, and, to my delight, her first words were "Da Da".  Every night before I put her to bed, I take her outside to say "good night" to the stars.  I read to her, pray with her, and for her, and sing her to sleep".


Rachel's mother Jill makes a post on her blog that says the following:

  • "Elva drove drunk to Santa Barbara after she killed Rachel"
  • "Elva drove on a suspended license after she killed Rachel"
  • "She had a "princess" themed party about a month after she killed Rachel and served alcohol to one or more teenagers."
  • "Weeks after she killed Rachel, Elva would post comments on her MySpace page that showed zero remorse.  Only more partying, fun, and guys."
  • "While in county jail, Elva told her brother "they need to get over it" of course in reference to the family of Rachel only wanting due justice".
No Rachel did not have Muscular Dystrophy, but what killed this beautiful young women was just as deadly.  Unlike MD, what killed Rachel is totally preventable.  Here is the other story of Rachel Amaris Elliot who died on February 20, 2008 by a drunk driver.

At the time of her death, Rachel was living in Irvine, California with her Aunt Lindsay and Uncle Brian while she attended UC Irvine College.  Rachel had just finished her first semester and was looking forward to the coming spring.  Described as being extremely talented, intelligent and responsible, Rachel had a strong desire to serve her fellow man.  So much so, she aspired to become a forensic investigator when she graduated.  In a twist of fate, Rachel was a champion against teenage drunk driving and was a lead participate in the program "Every 15 Minutes" conducted for teenagers and families around the world.


In searching for the details of the crash, there is a link on a website devoted to Rachel labeled "Accident News Blog".  Clicking on the tab, you are directed to a blog called www.topix.com.  The first post in the comment section literally gave me the chills.  It was from MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving.  "Does anyone have information on a fatal car accident on Temescal Canyon around 12:30 A.M. on Thursday morning?  It involved a drunk driver slamming head-on and killing a young girl...Please help us learn about our friend who lost her young life due to the negligence of a stupid drunk.

Rachel's Car
It didn't take long for the replies to start pouring in, but it was one in particular that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand-up even more.  Debbie posted "I live right where the accident occurred.  I'm still haunted by the impact of the cars colliding that night...That poor little girl!  Rachel's car was destroyed so bad, you could hardly tell it was even a car.  Poor Baby!...I have seen many fatalities on this road but Rachel's accident was more violent by far..."  



Continuing on for the details of the accident, here is a synopsis of what I found on ChicoER.com by staff writer Greg Welter: Rachel was traveling on a residential street in an unincorporated area of Corona, approximately 40 miles Southeast of Los Angeles when she was struck head-on by a Chevrolet Tahoe that crossed over the center line.  The collision, reported at 12:39 a.m., was so violent the Tahoe rolled over after impact.  The driver, Elva Diaz, 29, sustained minor injuries in the crash.  Diaz was booked into the Riverside County jail on felony drunk driving and manslaughter.  Rachel suffered major head trauma and died at a local hospital at 3:30 a.m.  The article goes on to say that Rachel's parents were flying to Riverside to make the necessary arrangements.
Rachel and her parents Steven and Jill
Necessary arrangements.  I had to stop and think about that for a moment...As a parent, your supposed to be making arrangements for things like weddings, graduations, baby showers, not funeral arrangements.  How could anything be so unnecessary as your child being killed by a drunk driver? 

Now, there is all kinds of statistics out there citing the deaths each year by drunk driving, but it never seems to do much good to point out the numbers.  It can never happen to me is the rationale when your drinking if you even give it a thought at all.  How many of us have the capability to be as cold hearted as Elva Diaz?  Could any of you reading this article really live with themselves knowing they were responsible for the death of such a beautiful young woman?

This really pains me to have to admit this but I came very close 2 1/2 years ago to answering those questions myself.  I really struggled with mentioning this because I didn't want to make this about me.  But I feel, after reading about Rachel, that I owe her parents by telling my story in hopes that you will never do a senseless selfish act like getting behind the wheel while intoxicated like I did so many times.  Yeah, that's right, I drove more than once in my lifetime drunk and I was a just a social drinker.  And what made it worse, I was a fireman and a cop!  I didn't even drink at home except on very rare occasions like Thanksgiving and Christmas.  It was a joke around my house that a six-pack of beer would sit in my fridge until it turned to wine.   In fact, I never had a thing for alcohol because my mom was an alcoholic when I was growing up and remained that way until the day she died.  But when I got a divorce in 1994, I started partying every weekend at a favorite nightclub whenever I wasn't own duty at the firehouse.  Now most nights, I left feeling fine, but every once in a while I would drive home when I clearly knew I shouldn't of. 

To make it more confusing as to why I would commit such a senseless act,  I can't begin to even tell you folks how many innocent people I have seen maimed or killed in drunk driving incidents, but that didn't stop me.  I wish I could forget the incidents where some well intentioned friend or neighbor called the parents who rushed to the scene only to have me tell them that their child was dead.  But that didn't stop me from getting behind the wheel and driving buzzed on days like the upcoming Labor Day weekend. 


Rachel and her Great-Grandmother
I'll never forget that night as long as live.  I was sitting at home on the evening of May 6th, 2009 watching T.V. when I suddenly remembered "Oh shit, the union retirement dinner is tonight.  How in the hell am I going to make it from Concord to San Jose in less than an hour?"  Fifteen minutes later I jumped in my vette and headed south.  When I got there, an hour late, most of the retirees being honored that night had already had gotten up and made their speech and received their plaque.

 Speech?  What Speech? I don't make speeches folks.  I have an intense fear of speaking in public.  So I did what any stage-frightened man would do, I downed enough wine to give me the courage to walk up there and speak in front of a room full of people. 

Home was an hour and a half away and I was feeling buzzed but I felt that I could make it OK if I just took my time and was careful.  Famous last words.  I wish I had a twenty for every time I heard that.  And I almost made it until the last 10 miles.  What is it we were taught when we were younger "accidents occur within 25 miles or less from home".  Except this was no accident, I was driving while under-the-influence.
Rachel and her Aunt Lindsay
The last thing I remember before totaling my vette was someone honking their horn at me after I cut them off on Hwy 680 and Ignacio Valley Road in Concord.  Somehow I made through the first stop light but I wasn't so lucky at the next intersection.  I took out a traffic sign and a stop light before I woke up to gain control of my car.  Much more sober now, I managed to drive my car even though the front end was totally destroyed, another block and even made a right turn into a Kinder Care parking lot with no right front wheel. 

I sat in my car for what seemed like 20 minutes before I could shake off what happened and come to my senses.  Just as I exited my vehicle, Walnut Creek P.D. showed up.  I passed the field sobriety tests but blew a .11 so off to jail I went.  The gravity of what could have happened still hadn't hit me yet at this point.  All I knew was that I was sitting in the back of a cop car, handcuffed, and on my way to the Contra Costa County Jail.  Because I had no one to take me home, I spent the night in a holding cell.  At 10:00 the next morning, I was released from jail with no car and worried to death of what was coming next. 

Taxis were waiting outside the jail even on a Sunday morning and so I jumped in and headed home with the worst headache I have ever had in my life.  As we approached Civic Drive, I realized just how blessed I was not to have killed someone much like Rachel had died.  The traffic sign and light are sitting on a center divide separating on-coming traffic from the East.  If my vehicle would have drifted over just a foot, I would have likely went head-on with another vehicle.  For the rest of the 10 mile ride home, I sat in the back of the cab and just shook. 

For the next year I had to deal with the Department of Motor Vehicles, the justice system, the City of Walnut Creek, and of course my insurance company and the attorney handling my case.  After the attorney gladly took my $3500.00, I had to come up with another $5,000 for a down payment on a new car, I also had to figure out how I was going to get myself around for the next 45 days while my license was revoked. Thank God I was retired and didn't have to drive to work.  When the DMV says you cannot drive, they mean you don't drive because if you get caught, your problems have just gotten 10 times worse.  After the DMV hearing and the 45 day suspension, I received a restricted license and was enrolled in the First Offender Drunk Driving Program.  The program consists of 16 hours of classroom instruction and 10 hours of group discussion.  I was also ordered by the court to attend 12 Alcohol Anonymous meetings, 10 hours of community service, a $1800.00 dollar fine and serve three years probation. 

In conclusion, the price I paid for my mistake was nothing compared to the price Rachel Elliott paid.  I can't explain it, maybe because I was so disgusted with myself, but since my arrest I haven't been able to drink alcohol without feeling sick to my stomach.  I feel very blessed to have such a wonderful guardian angel that protected not only me, but others on the road that night. Please don't drink and drive this holiday weekend or at anytime for that matter.  Think about murdering someone like Rachel.  Would you be able to "get over it" as Elva Diaz suggested? What would happen to your family, your home, your job? 

Oh, one other thing.  Mr. Elliott's statement about his daughter's birth I quoted in the beginning of this article was actually an excerpt from his victim statement at the sentencing of Elva Diaz who is serving a 10 year sentence in prison for the murder of Rachel. 



For More Information go to :

Rachel Elliott Website
Every 15 Minutes
MADD











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