Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Details - Part Two

Part One - details of the accident - is here.

Sixteen months after the collision, the Prosecuting Attorney emails me and says that the defendant has opted for a jury trial. This means that Mr. Daddy and I will have to testify. It also means that I'll be facing her for the first time.

I was thoroughly rattled by the thought.

Turns out the standard sentencing range is 22 - 29 months for a felony hit-and-run. Mind you, it's just for the act of running - not anything for a traffic citation or my injuries.

Still, I cannot imagine why she would want a jury trial when the victim and witness have both worked for law enforcement for 15 years, and the investigating officer is highly regarded. I am not prepared for the news a week before the trial, that she has chosen to plead guilty in a plea agreement to the judge of 24 months.

I post my feelings on the blog as I struggle for what to write in a Victim Impact Statement. Blog posts usually flow, even on difficult topics - why can't I write this thing and be done with it? And though I understand the heart behind every single comment, my own was pulled in a different way for no humanly logical reason.

I crash at 1:40 that morning, and awake at 4:40am - stomach in knots. It’s time to go and I muster the troops: Mr. Daddy, my dad, and my mom (who also interprets).

It reminds me bizarrely of a wedding. One side sits in benches on the left, the other side sits in benches on the right - with an aisle in between for the stars of the show.

I ask the Prosecuting Attorney if I am to speak only to the judge, or if I can speak to the defendant, Miss R. directly. His answer is the official rule of "speak to the judge", but adds that he will not stop me from speaking directly to Miss R. I get the sense that it is basically my choice to try, until the judge stops me.

The door near the jury box opens and two correctional officers escort an inmate to a seat. She is dressed in an orange jumper, handcuffed and shackled at the waist. I know immediately that it is her.

Friends - what absolutely blew me away, is that SHE LOOKED LIKE ME.

Seriously. She had straight hair, but otherwise looked like she could have been a younger version of me.

I wanted to stare. I wanted to be sick. I wanted to talk to her. I wanted to run back to my car.

She turns and smiles at the people in the front row of the bench across from us. She waves at the little boy with them. And it tugged at my heart. He looks the same size as Itty Bit had been at the time of the accident.

Finally I approach the podium on shaky knees and try to keep my voice from trembling as I thank the judge for allowing me to speak.

I have never met Miss R. before today and I wanted her to know... I turn and looked directly at her, she sits four feet away, unflinchingly meeting my eyes ...that I did everything I could to avoid hitting you.

That's it for me. I'm a goner and the tears spring to the surface. I can tell she is defiant and defensive and her body language easily conveys that she is not intimidated.

I want you to know that I'm not a faceless, nameless person whose car got wrecked. I'm a mom - and my family's life has been turned upside down for the last 17 months.

I don't know if you remember what the accident looked like (as I pass the photos to the judge), but it was bad. I couldn't see you through the smoke, but I could see that the truck was smashed directly on the driver's side.

I don't know if you know this, but the man who tried to help you... was my husband. He followed me home that day and was the first to check on you.

She looks as if she's been slapped. Her eyes widen in shock and she imperceptibly shakes her head, then looks at her lap. Then my voice breaks and my emotions betray me. Tears are falling freely as she looks at me again.

I thought you were dead. I thought I had killed you.

And she cracks. Her eyes don't leave mine, but they brim with tears and she wipes them with her cuffed hands.

My mother is choking up, and the big correctional officer standing next to Miss R. looks as if he's fighting tears himself.

I want to tell you about myself. I struggled for seven years to have a baby. And after giving up, finally had a miracle baby. He was one-year old at the time of the accident. He is the same size as this beautiful boy - as I looked back to the toddler sitting in his mom's lap behind us.

He was sick that morning. And if he hadn't been, he would have been in the car with me to pick up my husband.

It was the worst feeling of my life to look in the backseat and see his carseat tipped up against a smashed in door.

It could have killed him.

She looks briefly at the little boy and I pressed on.

I hope you have someone in your life that you would be heartbroken to lose. I would be heartbroken to lose my son. I cannot imagine the feeling of losing this beautiful little boy behind me. I am more sad than angry, but I am human. If my son had been in the car with me, you would be seeing a very different person today.

The courtroom is absolutely silent. The judge listens intently, but does not stop me from speaking to Miss R. Her tears continue and I am silently pleading for the right words. I don't care about convincing the judge... I only care about reaching her.

Because it is what the judge wants to hear, I list my injuries. And I end by saying that those are "things". I ask Miss R. to look at the pictures of the accident, and to look at the picture of Itty Bit.

We've been given a second chance.

As she looks at the accident photos in disbelief, I tell her what bothered me the most.

I didn't know what happened to you. I didn't know if you were hurt, if you died. And now? I'm just so GRATEFUL that you can even walk.

All through the neverending onslaught of tears... the ugly kind of cry.

I don't think you did this on purpose - as she shakes her head emphatically - and I don't know much about you.

I say to the judge, I know she's been through a couple of treatment programs, and I don't know what will work. But I ask that you give her the best chance to dry out, which may not be a treatment program. What scares me is that this was not her first hit-and-run, but my bigger fear is that it will not be her last.

This means that I am asking that she doesn't get her sentence deferred into another treatment program. He nods in understanding.

All treatment programs are trying to do, is to convince you to make that decision for yourself. Nothing will work until you decide that for yourself. You don't need a program to make this choice.

I think you're worth it.

The court is hushed as I return to my seat.

Miss R. silently walks to the podium and faces the judge. He asks if she has anything to say, and her attorney says that she has prepared a statement.

She looks at the judge and continues to wipe tears from her eyes.

I had a statement prepared, but after hearing what she said, I don't want to read it - as she crumples up a few pages of handwritten notes. I deserve any sentence you give me.

The judge begins to speak. He is compassionate and tells her that no one has said that she is a bad person, but that she has made some poor choices. He says that he hoped she heard what I was speaking from my heart.

He says that the court does not deal in "what-ifs". She was not being tried or charged with a "what if". But that he hoped she understood that someone could have been killed. He recalled that I had said I was grateful she could walk - and how fortunate she was not to have been killed.

The judge said he could not look into the circumstances of the crime because she had plead guilty. But he said that looking at her criminal record, he could read between the lines. Since the charge was simply for hit-and-run, he could not order drug treatment for her. He hoped that if she had a problem, she would seek help.

He then ordered her to 24 months in prison. As the correctional officer began to escort her around the defense table, she turned to look at me.

I'm sorry.

27 comments:

K said...

Rachel
I am so glad to you made a difference like this - you and Mr Daddy - its a joy to know you
And also wanted to say yoour comment on my blog "connecting in a way that has nothing to do with disabilities " was EXACTLY what I meant for I love R neither because of ASD or inspite of it it
I just love him cause I do

shmode said...

I am in absolute tears Rachel. I really pray that your words pushed her to seek help.

Emily said...

Wow. Wow. I don't know what else to say. Those are powerful words and I get the sense that you were really just being led to say them. I'm glad that the trail is behind you know...how do you feel now? Like you can move on?

Ruby Red Slippers said...

First-thanks for stopping by my blog-
What a post you wrote-and to live through all this-my goodness.
Thank GOD your little boy was home!
Thank GOD you were O.K.
Thank you for sharing-it was emotional to read, I can't imagine being in that court room.

Mr. and Mrs. Nurse Boy said...

WOW!!!! I believe God really spoke through you!!! Thank you for allowing Him to use you. I can only imagine how hard that must have been. I am crying right now. What a moving testimony. I pray your words stay with her and she allows herself the opportunity to make better choices.

Mrs. Nurse Boy

Shanda said...

Praise God that He gave you the words. That He gave you the strength to say all that you had wanted to say AND that you were able to look her in the eye while you did it.

I am trusting that she will not forget. (and I don't think it is a coincidence that she looked similar to you - she may see you in the mirror every morning...) I am believing that your compassion toward her will soften the hardness and that 24 months without any substance abuse will prove to her that she can do it.

Blessings sweet friend. May your sleep be sweet tonight.

Foursons said...

OK, so my comment on Part 1 was for nothing. ;)

I'm gonna read this tomorrow when I'm not so tired. Like I told you the other day- I'm proud of you. You allowed Jesus to use you and allowed that girl to see Jesus through you. Beautiful.

He & Me + 3 said...

Wow again. You were totally used by the Lord, You showed her exactly who Jesus is that day. I believe that your words made a difference in her life & meeting you face to face has made a permanent impact on her. I sure hope that a burden is lifted from you...I sure hope that she seeks the help she needs too. Because you are right she is worth it. Especially to HIM that created her.

Brandi said...

Dang Rachel you made me cry. I read part one, but didn't comment cause I wanted to read part 2. First, I can't imagine your husband being right behind you and how scared he must have been to witness that (and praise God Itty had a cough). Second, I think how you handled yourself in court was amazing. I pray you have peace from this nightmare now that you have faced her, and I pray she got the message.

Lisa said...

When we are willing vessels, God will fill our need. He filled your thoughts and words, and they will not be in vain. She may not take full heed to everything you said, but God spoke through you and God's word DOES NOT go out in vain. Hopefully some peacefull nights will come your way.

Cindy McNeal said...

Wow. Wow. Wow. I am speechless. Your words. powerful and moving. Froze time for a second to show me how precious life is and how QUICK it can change.

Liz (Loving Mom 2 Boys) said...

Oh my goodness. I have been in a couple accidents - nothing major....I've never thought of what the impact of a serious wreck would be. I've never thought about the aftermath of something like this...fortunately i have never had to.

I can't even imagine how hard it was to face her that day. I don't know what I would do if I had to stand there, to talk to her, to talk to the judge.

I really pray that she realizes what she has is a second chance - I really hope for her, for her children, for others driving, she realizes how lucky she is that she did not kill you or herself (or worse Itty Bit). I hope these next 24 months she wakes up!!

Thank you for sharing your story with us!!!

Much Love!!
Liz

Kmama said...

Sitting here in tears. I don't really know you, but am proud of what you did.

I hope that now you can put this behind you and move on.

MrsMann said...

As I wipe away tears, I just have to tell you that you handled that amazingly. God did indeed use you. I hope that now you can find the peace you deserve.

momof3darlings said...

UGHHHH...I'm just so glad I didn't do my make up yet. I'm a big blubbering mess!!

Rachel, you are amazing!

Stacy said...

Oh Rachel...I don't know what to say other than that you are such a good person. I don't see how your words could not possibly affect her future. She needs to take those feelings she felt in the courtroom and use them for her second chance. You did a wonderful job in court, like I knew you would!

Pam D said...

I've heard the term "God-breathed" before, but should I ever need to try and define it, I will come back to this post. There's no other term to adequately describe the words that came out of your mouth and from your heart. I'm praying now that those words were able to pry open a crack in that young woman's heart that will allow the love of God to fill her up. One thing is for sure; even though you didn't choose for this to happen, you surely allowed God to use it for the good. Now, I need to go get a Kleenex. hugs...

Kameron said...

I think you handled things amazingly. You said everything from your heart and not simply out of anger, which is what I am sure a lot of others in your situation would have done. The fact that she did not choose to read her statement shows that you really reached her. Hopefully it is enough to set her on the right path.

Foursons said...

Well written Rachel. Like I've already said, you did well.

Shana said...

I have to say, you made me cry. But i totally believe you took the high road and did what God wants us to do. You turned the other cheek and used the wrong she did for her own advantage and made her think.

Megan said...

Wow, wow, wow. You totally made me cry with your statement. I hope that this girl gets the help that she so obviously needs.

Julie said...

Wow. That was awesome. Well, I hope you know what I mean by that because I can't find the right words.

Lisa said...

Rachel,

You are incredible, I only hope she was impacted by your brilliant, hearfelt words.

Peace,
Lisa

myletterstoemily said...

this is easily the most moving well
written post i have ever read. i
felt as if i were watching this on
t.v.

i'm so sorry you have had to go
through such a terrible ordeal
and i marvel at your compassion.

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