The following is the Victim's Impact Statement I made in Riverside Superior Court, August 5, 2011 in People VS Elva Diaz, convicted of Gross Vehicular Manslaughter and sentenced to the aggravated term of ten years. It was one of eight Victim's Impact Statements presented to the court on that day and one of 31 submitted in writing for the court's consideration. It is by no means the best.
Honorable Judge Mark Johnson:
My name is Steven Winebrener Elliott. I am the father of Rachel Amaris Elliott.
First, I want to thank you for presiding over the trial in such a fair and reasonable manner. I don’t say this to flatter or manipulate you in any way: This is simply the only opportunity I may have to express my gratitude.
Because of the way you conducted the trial, I have the confidence that you will justly sentence the woman responsible for killing my daughter.
During the trial, you recessed the proceedings for a morning so that a juror could accompany her minor daughter to the airport. You said more than once that you honored the juror’s request because you are a father of a 14-1/2 year old daughter yourself and would want to send her off personally if she were going on a trip on an airplane. From this, I know that you understand a father’s love for his daughter. There are things words cannot express. My love for Rachel is one of them. I am grateful that I have the confidence that you already know what Rachel means to me, because you obviously love your own daughter and can imagine the horror of losing her.
Your Honor, Rachel didn’t deserve to die. Rachel wasn’t sick. She wasn’t careless. Her death was not an accident. It was not her fault. It was senseless and sickeningly violent. Rachel loved life and made the most of it. I want to impress upon you and everyone else in this courtroom who never had and has now forever been denied the opportunity to know Rachel personally, the kind of person she was in life, and the precious daughter she was to me.
My wife and I tried to teach respect for the law, personal responsibility, compassion, and the value of hard work to our children, and we have tried to model these virtues in our own lives. Rachel learned these lessons well, and was a remarkably capable, responsible, and caring young woman. She knew even before she learned to drive that driving while intoxicated is dangerous to human life, and she worked hard to prevent it.
I am a family man. I don’t have a college degree. I have worked hard, long hours in construction all my adult life to provide for my family. The best I have to show for my efforts is a loving wife and two wonderful children. Now I have one.
I married the woman I love, and we decided to raise children together. We had just two, and God blessed us with first a girl and then a boy. Before the kids went to school, Jill, my wife, stayed home to care for them. It was difficult, but we managed to scrape by.
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.
Rachel was a precocious child. She began talking when she was only 7 months old, and, to my delight, her first word was “Da-Da.” Every night before I put her to bed I would take Rachel outside to say, “Good-night” to the stars. I would read to her, pray with her and for her, and sing her to sleep.
As she grew, Rachel continued to give me cause for wonder. She loved to sing, and had a beautiful voice. She was bright and beautiful and affectionate and a delight to everyone who knew her. When she was in junior high school, she asked me to baptize her. She revealed a tender, compassionate heart, a passion for justice, an incisive intelligence, and a native drive for achievement and excellence that we, her parents, only wish we could take credit for. Jill and I simply marveled at the outstanding woman Rachel was becoming in every way right in front of our very eyes.
Just like every other human being, Rachel wasn’t perfect. She was strong-willed and so intelligent that maintaining our authority as her parents was always a struggle. Sometimes we had to concede that she honestly knew better than we did. I always had the suspicion that the very traits that sometimes made life with Rachel difficult would eventually prove to be her greatest strengths. We tried not to break her independent spirit, but to foster in her a desire to use her power for good. We tried to encourage her to use the gifts and opportunities she was given to bless and benefit others.
And in her short life, Rachel did. I was always proud of her. I was never more proud than on the day this photo was taken. It was taken at her Senior Awards Ceremony. She literally received more awards and scholarships than she was able to carry back to her car by herself. We had to help her. I am not alone in my conviction that Rachel could have been or done anything she desired. Her gifts and abilities were matched with the drive and ambition that is essential to achievement. Sadly, some of the scholarships Rachel received that day had to be returned. She didn’t have time to use them.
A Victim’s Impact Statement is supposed to be about how I have suffered and what I have lost personally. But it is difficult to speak about my losses when I measure them against what Rachel has lost: Her life, upon which every other gift, right and privilege depends. Obviously, I have lost a daughter; a good daughter; my only daughter. I have had no greater joy in this life than being Rachel’s Daddy. As a husband and father, there is nothing on this earth I cherish more dearly than my family. I would gladly give my life for any one of them. I wish I could trade my life for Rachel’s. I wish I could have bargained for Rachel’s life as Elva Diaz has bargained for her freedom; I wish I could have defended Rachel’s life as Aimee Vierra has defended Elva Diaz’ freedom. The lives of my family are the only thing in this world I would not, under any circumstances, willingly give. Nevertheless, Rachel’s life was taken from her, from me, from this world, by a 28 year-old mother and former ambulance driver/emt who couldn’t be bothered or persuaded to find another way home after a night of binge drinking. It is so infuriatingly and tragically senseless...No excuse or explanation can change that brutal fact.
I want Ms Diaz to know something: Rachel might not have been alone in her car the night of February 21, 2008. Our son, Erik, was visiting friends down here in Riverside the night Rachel was killed. Before she left to visit the family of her junior high school friend in Corona, she invited my son and their two friends, Spencer and Emily Osborne, to go with her. By God’s grace, or dumb luck, they declined. Otherwise, Ms Diaz, the life-saver, would have been responsible for the deaths of four wonderful young people that night. She would have completely wiped out the work of the best 20 years of our marriage and left Jill and me with nothing to show for it but memories and ashes. She would have been responsible for the devastation of two families. When she refused to be dissuaded from driving home drunk from Sportman’s Bar, did she not care that it could just as easily have been her own child rounding the curve in the opposite lane of traffic? But it wasn’t her own child: it was mine.
The news that Rachel had been killed came on a day like so many other days, catching us in the middle of our routine. In many ways it was like we too were hit head-on by an SUV.
Imagine your cell phone rings as you are on your way to work in the morning. You are making the same drive you have made a thousand other mornings, past all the familiar landmarks. Thoughts of the day’s obligations occupy your mind. But this phone call is unlike the thousands of others you have received at times and places like these. Everything has changed for you; you just don’t know it yet. Your life as you knew it is already over. Every hope and dream you had of a happy and joyful future is dead. While you slept your precious daughter was dying. While you went about your morning routine, you had no idea that the life you built with the woman you love was already in ruins. Your little girl, the only one who called you “Daddy”, is gone and there is no bringing her back. You answer the phone and take the news.
Suddenly you are thrown into an unfamiliar universe. You have considered what your family would do if you were to die unexpectedly. But this possibility has never entered your mind. It’s not supposed to happen like this. People are sympathetic, but they need answers: What will you do with Rachel’s body? Will you have a funeral or memorial service? When and where will it be held, and who will officiate? Will there be music? What charities will you recommend as memorial recipients? Will you write an obituary? How will you summarize your daughter’s life? How can you? There are too many deadlines... Everyone you look at is confused and in pain. Everyone needs help, but you have nothing to offer, because you can’t even help yourself; you can barely function. And that was just the beginning of sorrows...
I have suffered in every way imaginable over the three and a half years since Rachel was killed. My father, wife and I run a small business. Three-fourths of our work-force has been crippled by grief and the financial and time demands of a fugitive hunt and this judicial process. I have suffered emotionally and spiritually, though I can’t begin to describe it: The light of my life has gone out, and I fumble in the darkness. I have been plagued with depression and mysterious, stress-related digestive disorders that have gone undiagnosed for almost 2 years. I am not the man I was. I believe I never will be.
Sometimes I glimpse a young woman with the sunshine glowing on her shoulders and the breeze ruffling the little hairs at the back of her neck. Her reality reduces me to tears - just the simple, miraculous fact of her life. Rachel was a real girl like that once. Rachel should be laughing in the sunshine, texting her friends, ordering take-out, falling in love. She should be.
One of the most devastating effects of Rachel’s death has been what it has done to the young people who knew her - our son, Erik, Rachel’s brother, especially. Rachel was the one who kept her friends out of trouble. When they would drink, she would insist on driving them home. She studied while they partied. She worked while they played. She cared while they pursued their selfish interests. When a person like Rachel is deprived of life and denied the rewards that come from her hard work and personal sacrifice, how do you rationalize it? How do you convince her brother, her friends, that it is still worth while to make the effort, to work hard, to be a good citizen? Imagine a 17 year old having to deal with the death of the person he lived with every day of his young life and having to face the rest of his life without his only sister who loved him fiercely. I can’t stand to think of it. He wasn’t even able to write a Victim’s Impact Statement.
Your Honor, as a family man, I ask you to imagine watching your wife, your surviving child, and all the other family and friends who knew and loved your dead daughter suffering around you. There is nothing you can do to shield them from the pain. There is nothing you can do to make it better. You must watch helplessly as they fall apart. This has been the pitiless torture I have only just barely been able to survive. And, to tell you the truth, often, I really haven’t wanted to. What do I have to look forward to? I feel my best days, when my daughter and I shared this world, are behind me now. I will never again hear Rachel’s sweet voice, her laugh; I will never feel her little hand in mine; I will never smell the scent of her silky hair under my nose as I kiss the top of her head. I will never see the remarkable woman she should have become. I will never hold her children. I am the husband of a wonderful woman and the proud father of a fine son, and for that I am grateful. They inspire in me the strength I need to go on living. But I miss her. I always will...
Your Honor, I believe Elva Diaz deserves the most severe sentence allowable. She gave Rachel a sentence of death and those who love her a life-sentence of sorrow and suffering without the benefit of a trial. I reject the notion that Rachel died so that Elva Diaz could be taught a valuable life lesson. As a 28 year-old mother and former ambulance driver, she should have known better than to drink and drive. I believe Elva Diaz’ best service to society will only be as an example for others, as a caution against the foolish and heartless course of action she chose.
I trust Your Honor to do what is fair and just in the eyes of the law. I know that no judgment you make will bring Rachel back. That is the one and only thing I desire, and the very thing you are powerless to give. I will never see my daughter’s face again in this life. I can only hope there is another.
Thank you for listening, Your Honor. And thank you for your service to Rachel, to the community that loves her, and to this country in the cause of justice. God bless you.