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Video+Story: Victim’s Legacy – A Voice for the Voiceless

When I was in school, at H. E. Charles Jr. High School, I was a geeky little guy. I focused my life on comics, Dr. Who, and listening to the radio. That was my whole life.

School was not too fun when I was in the eighth grade. We read about bullies today, but the eighties had more than their share of them. I did, however, have a few close friends. Those friends were in my physics class. A class taught by Mr. Capps.

After I left H. E. Charles, the following year saw the loss of Mr. Capps. He and his wife were returning home when a drunk driver crashed into them.

Mr. Capps died instantly. The woman who hit them? She walked away without a scratch.

His passing was the first time that anyone I knew had died. Mr. Capps was a force in my life. Really in the lives of everyone he ever taught. He would take the time to make the concepts he was teaching very clear, but he went beyond that.

When I was working on little things at home, playing the mad scientist, he would always give me advice and guidance. He also went beyond the role of just a teacher. He was also a father figure to many of us who had him for physics.

The day I heard the news, my mom and I were picking up Nancy, my sister, from school. I had noticed that the flag was at half-mast that day, and asked her and Cindy why. That was how I heard the news, from my sister.

I simply could not handle the news. I almost wanted to believe that it was not true. But it was. Mr. Capps was killed by a drunk driver who had no regard for the law, or the lives of others.

The woman who hit them, because of her age and a clean record, only received probation.

I never forgave her, even though I never know who she was. How could I?

Even after I left H. E. Charles, I would still seek advice on projects, and life from Mr. Capps. The woman killed a small part of me, and it ate at me for quite some time. I couldn’t even attend his funeral simply because I didn’t want to acknowledge the fact that he was gone.

Fast forward to August 2017.

One of my friends, from social media, was watching the gears of justice turn slowly. Her brother was killed by a drunk driver.

In an instant, he lost his life, and a tiny part of everyone he knew died right along with him.

When Gabriel died, the collective world of his family was upended. His sister Veronica remembers hearing about the accident and death the next morning on the radio.

She said a small prayer for the family of that person – not yet knowing she was that family.

Veronica told me that when her brother would leave home and was only going to be gone for a few moments, he would leave the light and fan on in his room. The family came to know, just by seeing that, he would be right back.

After that news, that light stayed on for quite a long time.

When Carmen Tellez heard the news that her son Andy was killed by a drunk driver in Los Angeles, she was devastated.

When I met with and spoke to Carmen, she could not even refer to her son in the past tense. To her, today, he is still very much a part of her life. An active part of her life.

I think Veronica sees her brother in the same light: as an active part of her life.

In the formation of Victim’s Legacy, Gabriel, Andy, and anyone who has died because of a drunk driver are still very active, I think, in the lives of those left behind.

Now, lets take a quick step back in time.  I want to take a moment to share something my grandmother, Josephine Zimmerman, once told me.

My grandmother knew I wanted to be a writer and a poet. One day, when we were visiting the home of one of her friends, I was invited to look at all the books she had amassed and, and if I found one I liked, I could borrow it. I found several, but had to narrow it down to one.

That book was a collection of short stories. The stories were not very remarkable to me at the time. The stories were written in a voice I really couldn’t follow. I mentioned this to my grandmother, and she took a look at the book.

After grandma had read one of the stories, she told me that the book was written to tell the stories of everyday people. The author of the book, it turns out, was writing about his friends and family. None of them were famous, none of them held high positions in government, or cured some disease. But to the author, each one was special in their way.

My grandmother, as we were driving to Furr’s Cafeteria – the one that used to be in Sunrise Shopping Center – told me that for the author, in his writing the book, gave a form of eternal life to each of the people in the book.

With Victim’s Legacy, Veronica is doing the same thing with her brother; but, it goes beyond that.

In my meetings, and conversations with Veronica one thing is clear. Gabriel would not have wanted his family to suffer, be sad, or feel grief over his loss. He would not have wanted them to lose even one precious moment of life.

Carmen’s son, Andy? I don’t think he would have wanted his mom or his family to suffer. I think he would have wanted them to life, and live fully. Both of these women are, and they are bringing a message that their sons would have wanted to share if they could.

When you lose a member of your family, it’s easy to crawl into a hole and stay there. It’s easy to do absolutely nothing, lock the doors, and spend your life in constant grief. It’s easy.

What is hard is sharing the message of how they died, over and over. Sharing it in hopes of changing the mindset of people when it comes to drunk driving.

My first meeting with Veronica was a couple of months ago. The court process was grinding away; It seemed there was no end in sight. During that first conversation, Veronica shared with me the life that Gabriel lived, and the reasons for Victim’s Legacy.

Victim’s Legacy was formed to help address the issues we have in El Paso with drunk driving. Far too often people will go out, have a few beers, and think they are in a well enough state to drive.

Others will have a birthday party for their children, and that very quickly becomes an excuse for the parents to have a party of their own – at most of these parties, not all of them, the beer seems to flow freely.

What Victim’s Legacy is doing, and where they differ from all the other groups I have known, is they are not only offering comfort to the family members who have lost someone but also trying to educate the driver of such accidents.

They are forming victim impact panels where the families will be able to meet with the driver who was arrested for that DWI/DUI.

They are also going to be there, during the hearings, and trial of individuals arrested for DWI so that the victim will have a voice, and presence in the courtroom. Far too often the hearings center on the defendant, and hardly ever touch on the victim.

As Veronica put it, the defendant is the “protagonist” in this drama; everyone else can be quickly forgotten.

Victim’s Legacy is also working to put together a network of individuals that can be called upon to offer support when someone receives the news of a family member having been killed in an accident. These will be the people who can offer a shoulder to cry on, prayer, and support beyond what the group can provide (think of ministers from a church or a psychologist offering to counsel for the families).

It’s sad that we need groups like Victim’s Legacy. It’s disappointing that people still think it is okay to drive after a few beers, or a whole mini-bar full. But it is good that people like Veronica and Carmen are there, to help.

I did ask the question if they forgave the people that took the lives of their family. Both said yes. They did not say they would forget, or like them. No, they forgive them, and that is enough.

If they were unable to forgive, then their lives would be that of a recluse in constant sorrow and mourning. That is not a way to live.

From these two ladies, who can forgive the person responsible for taking their son, their brother, their friend from them, I can forgive the woman who took Mr. Capps from me twenty-seven years ago.

If you would like to connect with Victim’s Legacy, you can find them on Facebook.

This is the first in a series.

About Steven Cottingham

Steven Cottingham is an artist, poet (haiku, tanka, senryu) as well as a photographer. Growing up, he wanted to be a columnist, as well as photojournalist. Life, and poor decision, led him down a different path. Today, Steven is chasing those dreams. He is currently working on his next book, as well as starting a small poetry journal. You may visit Steven, online, at www.StevenCottinghamPhotography.com

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One comment

  1. Sharing this. It is something I know many need to hear.

    I lost a member of my family to a drunk driver in New York State. The driver only served 90 days in jail, and is serving three years probation. It’s not his first time driving while smashed.

    I wish these two healing and wholeness. They are in my prayers.

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