The following is a comment I posted to an article on the web site of the Ventura County Star on the man who just plead guilty to felony vehicular manslaughter in the death of my niece Cynthia on October 16, 2005 in Simi Valley, California. She was 18 at the time.
As Cynthia’s other uncle, I would like to add my voice to this discussion and perhaps shed some additional light on the circumstances of this tragedy and my own feelings about it. First, I would like to say that this is a discussion that needs to take place, especially to raise awareness of the problem of teenage racing (whether formal or informal) and the dangers it poses, so that other families may be spared the loss of a loved one. I truly hope that part of Walter’s sentence will include community service that requires him to speak to high school students about the wrong choice he made and its consequences.
Although I can’t speak for each member of our family, I would like people to know that, while angry and hurt about the senseless loss of Cynthia, we do not desire revenge from Walter for Cynthia’s death. Yes, there is a desire for justice, that there be a just penalty for what was in fact a criminal act, not only to honor the value of Cynthia’s life, but also to serve as a deterrent to other teenagers who think they can show off by driving fast without endangering their own lives and the lives of others.
So why were Walter’s actions criminal in nature? After all, he did not intend to take Cynthia’s life. He was just driving too fast on that road and lost control, right? If that were the case, if it were simply a tragic accident, the D.A. never would have charged him with felony vehicular manslaughter, and he certainly never would have pleaded guilty to the charge.
I was the first family member to visit the crash scene early Sunday morning. The road there has a series of curves, one after the other. The first curve before the crash site is quite sharp, and so Walter would have had to slow down to be able to negotiate it successfully. If I remember correctly, the second curve (the one where Walter lost control) is about 2 tenths of a mile after the first curve. If Walter hit that second curve going 83 mph, he would have had to accelerate dramatically in order to reach that speed in such a short distance.
Why did Walter make such a reckless and dangerous decision? Was he just speeding to get to his destination more quickly, like most of us do from time to time? If that were the case, he would not be guilty of manslaughter. The facts indicate he was either racing the friends who were driving behind him, or perhaps he was simply trying to show off or be macho. Regardless of the precise reason, it was a serious criminal offense. Society attaches penalties to such actions as a way of discouraging others, which is why I would like to see more than a slap-on-the-wrist. In my mind, the purpose of a serious penalty is to save lives. It wasn’t until penalties for drunk driving went up that related deaths and injuries started to decline.
As a Christian, I truly forgive Walter for what he did. I received the phone call from my brother at 4 am the day Cynthia died. He was almost ripped in two by the grief of losing his eldest daughter. But I believe the way to move from death to life is not through hatred or revenge, but by acknowledging the truth of what happened, accepting the consequences, and then seeking to heal that which was broken, not just because this is what my faith requires, but also because I believe it is what Cynthia would want.