FROM THE NEWS-LEDGER — AUG 14, 2013 –
By Steve Marschke
Sonia Rodriguez can’t undo what happened to her 17-year old daughter five years ago on a dark and drizzly West Sacramento street. But she is trying to keep the same thing from happening to somebody else’s daughter.
“Halloween, 2008, started out just like any other,” Rodriguez reported to friends in a recent email. “We were all getting ready to go trick-or-treating. We were excited that year because our youngest, two-year old Carmen, was finally old enough.”
“On the way home, Jessica’s friend, Rosa, called to see if she wanted to walk around for a little while. Who knew that would be the last time I would speak with my daughter? Two hours later, an officer came to our door and told us Jessica had been in a car crash.”
Jessica Fraire had been walking with Rosa Zaragoza (then 18, and also a River City High School student) on Sacramento Avenue near Douglas Avenue. They were probably walking eastbound, on the side of the street without a sidewalk, when a pickup truck swerved onto the paved shoulder and cut them down from behind.
Rosa Zaragoza was seriously injured.
Jessica died several days later of her own injuries.
The pickup fled the scene – followed by a witness who lost sight of it on the other side of the I Street Bridge.
After massive regional publicity, the next morning 34-year old Jennifer Moran of West Sacramento turned herself in.
“The lady admitted she had been drinking,” police lieutenant Tod Sockman told the News-Ledger in 2008. “She said she realized she had hit something, but was unsure what she hit. She drove around, and talked to a friend during the night, and then turned herself in.”
Moran is now free after serving time for vehicular manslaughter and hit-and-run, said Rodriguez. Even during sentencing at the court, said Jessica’s mother, Moran never apologized for the accident.
“I was shocked and outraged that she was released,” Rodriguez told the News-Ledger. “I felt victimized all over again. I was told she would serve at least half her time (a nine-year sentence) and to serve less than three years was unthinkable.”
“She said, ‘no, I don’t have a drinking problem, I just shouldn’t have given my friend a ride that night.’”
Because police didn’t have contact with Moran until the morning after the accident, they did not have direct evidence that Moran had been driving with too much alcohol in her blood. But they did a thorough job coming up with circumstantial evidence of DUI, said Rodriguez.
They talked to staff at the drinking establishments Moran and her friends had visited on that dismal night, counting the drinks served to her party. They noted that at one point, a server had declined to serve Moran because she appeared too intoxicated.
Rodriguez and husband Carlos have three other children, ranging from age 7 to 21. They miss their oldest girl.
“She was the eldest,” said Rodriguez. “She was the responsible one. I never had to ask her about her homework or tell her not to stay out after curfew. When it was someone’s birthday, she was the first one to send you a text in the morning wishing you a happy birthday. She would get you a gift that was something special. She would do things without being asked. . . She was not only my daughter, but my best friend and my biggest cheerleader.”
Rodriguez has become active in MADD – Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
“I go to panels and tell my story to offenders,” she reports. “I volunteer (for MADD) whenever they ask me to, and I’ve spoken at dinners.”
What she finds especially frustrating is that there is no good reason for her daughter to have died in an apparent drunk driving accident:
“This is 100 percent preventable,” she said. “You can make better choices to make sure this doesn’t happen to someone else or to you. There are taxi services that will take you. Some are even free.”
Coming up next in Rodriguez’s fight against drunk driving is a fundraising walk for MADD. She’ll be part of team “MADD About Jess” in the “Walk Like MADD” event, October in Sacramento. She’ll help raise money for the anti-drunk driving organization. Anyone who wants to donate to the effort, or form their own walking team, may visit www.WalkLikeMADD.org.
Marking the spot where Jessica was killed and Rosa was hurt now is a sign that urges people not to drink and drive.
Has all this work prevented someone else from getting killed by a drunk driver?
“I hope so,” answered Rodriguez.
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