Your honor and distinguished members of the court.
My name is David Goddard and I stand before you at the occasion of the sentencing of Rigoberto Arrazola to give my opinion of how the court should dispense justice in this matter.
I have to admit, it would be tempting to turn to the Code of Hammurabi. In 1700 BC or so, this ruler of what is now Iraq was one of the first to write the rules and punishments for violations. In Hammurabi's Code, Law 14, it states: "If any one steal the minor son of another, he shall be put to death."
A list of several hundred similar Laws exist. These grim retaliatory punishments take no note of excuses or explanations, but only of the fact - something happened here is the punishment. The ultimate in personal responsibility. No appeal or mercy but with one striking exception. An accused person was allowed to cast himself into "the river," the Euphrates, and if he was delivered from the river alive, he won his innocence. Apparently the art of swimming was unknown; for if the current bore him to the shore alive he was declared innocent, if he drowned he was guilty.
Our society pretends to be more nuanced than this. We are not as quick to take a life in exchange for a life and we can be easily influenced by circumstances of the situation and of the individual. However, the core question remains - if you take the lives of three other people, how should you pay??
For my part, this grieving process has been a realization that no matter what we as a society decide to do with Rigoberto, these three that meant so much to me will not be coming back. To a certain extent, this is therefore an exercise in futility.
Given the fact that the lives of three loved ones can never be returned, given that you cannot change the past, how do we handle this? In a Hammurabian system of justice we could put him to death, however, having so much life taken away in front of my eyes has led to a belief that life is so precious, that I even have a hard time arguing for taking any of it, not even the 20 years we are discussing here. Far from being vengeful, I find myself forgiving. Or perhaps just confused...
I work out of my house in Payson. The job requires regular travel outside of Arizona, so several times a month I find myself driving back home from Sky Harbor. As I pass the intersection, I can't help but notice the marking paint the DPS put on the road to indicate where the vehicle came to rest is still there. And each time, memories and feelings well up unbidden, bittersweet and poignant.
The next lonely hour drive to Payson is usually reflective and sober - a wondering of what might have been. A jolting realization of the irony of situation - of me driving home. The true meaning of the word "home" being made glaringly obvious in context by the very absence of those things that would make it a home. No warm fire and loving family to welcome me back, only an empty shell of a house that has no memories but those of grief, populated by two dimensional representations of those who are no longer here.
I met my wife Pernilla in January 1985. I was a high school senior and an exchange student in Bollnas Sweden. We spent 6 months of the spring and summer getting to know each other before I had to return to the States.
Promises and scattered letters followed intermittently in the next couple of years as the promise of young love was subsumed by the daily activities and adventures of a 20 year old life and held apart by the distance. Until eventually the letters and phone calls stopped.
Yet always in the back of the mind there was a connectedness and a what if. 16 years passed - we both had children. And one day I was sent to Sweden on business. I looked Pernilla up and one thing led to another until on April 1st 2003 we were married in a Swedish castle in the countryside near the place we first met. Her father said that it was a fairy tale come true.
Pernilla moved to Colorado where I was living at the time. Adding to the trauma of uprooting and moving away from her friends and family, her son, Simon, decided to stay in Scandinavia and live with his father. Instead he would come to visit on breaks and holidays, as would my children, William and Lexi.
Colorado was a nice place, but Pernilla never really thought of it as home. Too many ghosts of former employers and the ghosts of former girlfriends. We had looked for other places to live, and finally over Memorial Day we found the perfect place to put down roots on this complex family tree in Payson - a place to finally call home. We closed on the house on July 1st and Simon, Pernilla, and I hauled the first load in a U-Haul the very next weekend. My children, William and Lexi, arrived from Ohio the next week and the entire family was together again. And then, on July 23rd, Lexi and I returned to Payson from a 3 day trip with the last and final U-Haul trailer load.
July 24th, the next day, started out well. Now with the moving out of the way, it was time to stock the freezer and fridge. We decided to head down to the Valley to stock up.
After a late start, we found ourselves at IKEA, looking at all the Swedish things and having a traditional meal of meatballs, mashed potatoes and lingon berry jam. Pernilla had insisted on having our picture taken in front of the big IKEA sign to send back to the relatives on the way home. We loaded up on meat and supplies at Costco and we went window shopping for a new dining set. Several stops and several hours later we were on our way back up the hill. Simon was excited because we had stopped and gotten a new hockey puck for him to practice with. William had gotten a new mask for their soft air guns and they had plans on going into the woods and trying it out.
Everyone was happy and satisfied. Music was playing and everyone was in their happy place just before the tragedy struck. I have often reflected on this and wondered how much more difficult the grieving would have been if stress unhappiness or arguments had been latent. How much worse if an argument had occurred just before tragedy struck?
I will never forget the truck towing the boat pulling out in front of me. "Look at this idiot," I said to Pernilla as I got on the brakes to make sure that there was enough room. Then, unbelievably, another vehicle began to emerge from the intersection. Not knowing what to do, I tried to thread the needle between the trailered boat and the Navigator closing my path. According to investigators I only missed by an inch or so.
I didn't know what I hit at first. I heard that distinctive smashing noise of two vehicles hitting each other. I felt the rear come around and tried to steer out of it, only to fail. The spinning end over end and side over side started and all I could do was to hold on to that steering wheel for an eternity until the truck (and three of its occupants) came to its final resting place, leaving me hanging upside down in my seatbelt. I may have passed out, I was certainly in shock. I do not recall looking around in the inside of the truck to see how everyone else fared. I do not recall. In other words, I don't know if I did and this is being blocked from my memory perhaps to explode upon my consciousness sometime later, or if I somehow already knew, and did not want to look.
Liquid was on the ground and Lexi was calling my name. Shock and a sense of duty gave my body life as I dropped out of my seat belt and led her out of the vehicle to the other side of the debris strewn road. Bare feet on 110 degree pavement and glass that I picked out of my feet for more than a month. After making sure she was ok, I then tried to return to the vehicle to get the others. I got up to the side only to see William's arm or perhaps a leg bent at an angle that would have made sense if it would have been an elbow or a knee. But it was not. I then stood on the hot pavement and glass for I don't know how long in my shocked stupor, trying to think, trying to come up with a plan, but not knowing what to do until a Forest Service Fireman who had just arrived started screaming at me to get away from the truck. Grateful for the official relief of duty, I returned to the side of the road with my daughter.
Perhaps Lexi has the worst memories. She had no choice but to see Pernilla's neck bent at a strange angle. Cushioned between the boys during the accident, she had no choice but to have to crawl over the dead bodies of the boys that gave their lives such that she could live. I was fortunate not to have to see the death on their faces.
As an engineer I have tried to find a reason, a root cause for the accident. I have asked myself more times than I could count -- How much had to do with the drinking? How much due to intersection design? How much due to heat exhaustion and dehydration?
I do not know how many people died at that intersection before July 24 2005. But I can see the too numerous skid marks and tire tracks and roll-over marks of those that had been before. And I had heard enough anecdotal evidence prior to my own accident to form an opinion. In fact, I drove my boss up the Beeline to see the new house 6 weeks prior to the accident. He had commented on the narrowness of the road and lack of shoulders just before the Bush intersection. And in a bizarre act of foreshadowing, I distinctly remembering agreeing with him and volunteering in an offhand manner that a couple people die at this intersection every year.
One thing I do know, however, is how many accidents there have been since. A month or so after my accident, a Payson Doctor and his family were returning from a Valley shopping trip when they were struck in the same way at the same intersection. Everyone in his car was badly injured, but fortunately nobody died.
And a couple of months ago, a retired couple from North Dakota were turning from the Bush to southbound 87. A Payson area man was unable to avoid hitting them, tragically ending their vacation and their lives.
In addition, I have had 3 additional close calls of people pulling out in front of me. I do believe that the intersection design is the root cause of the accident. We, as a society, can give Rigoberto the maximum today, pat ourselves on the back, and trick ourselves into thinking justice is served. We can walk out of here pretending that we are fixing the problem, and half a dozen more people will be killed there this year.
But this is not the venue to address the need of the root cause. This venue is to address appropriate punishment for the individual who chose to drink and drive and exacerbate the poor highway design.
Only Rigoberto knows how much he had to drink that day. Perhaps he had consumed similar amounts in the past with no ill effects. But this time it was different.
For myself, I still spend time thinking what-ifs, most of them changing the timing of my arrival to that intersection. What if I had stopped to fuel up? What if I had not stopped to pick up the hockey puck for Simon? What if I would have hit the horn? What if he would have stopped just a little earlier, giving me those 2 inches that would have spared 3 lives? What if the boat hadn't been there, allowing me to hit the ditch?? And that occasional macabre thought of what if I had just stayed in my lane, brakes full on, and T-boned Rigoberto's vehicle? - Everyone in my vehicle would have lived in exchange for the guilt of killing everyone in his...
Rigoberto must have his own what-ifs. But the one thought that I hope that he has more than the others is "What if he would have stopped drinking several hours before he did?? Because if he had, I wouldn't have had to experience the worst night of my life.
That night, emotions washed over me with shock and realization that life had changed forever. I fought it and reined it in as much as possible. But then something happened that caused the wall that I had been building between me and my emotions to break completely down. About 3 am I received a phone call from Simon's father. I will never forget the grief in his voice. "Is it true," he asked? "Is my son Simon dead?" Stoic until then, I broke down and could barely answer with a choked, "Yes, I am sorry." I have never felt so helpless as I did at that moment, lying in my hospital bed. But how much worse must it have felt to Simon's father, 6000 miles away, unable to do anything, knowing something bad had happened, but trying to get information in a foreign language not even knowing where to start?
My life has several crater sized holes in it. No man should have to plan, assist, and attend 3 funerals in 3 different locations over a 3 week period - AZ, OH, Finland. No man should have to bury his son. It is not the natural order of things.
I have not spoken of my 13 year old son William or of my 14 year old stepson Simon yet except in passing. How does one describe potential?? Both of them were brilliant. Both of them were in the magical age of flowering and discovering themselves. What and who they could they have become is now in the domain of fantasy. Those various rites of passage that we take for granted that will never be experience - Prom, graduation, drivers' licenses. The sadness of their passing is mostly of unfilled potential - and the memories of the occasional glimpses that you see in a child that are an indication of who they might be when they grow up and become adults. Invariably, the reality of who they become is so much better and richer. And there is great sadness in not being able to watch this development occur and to know them as adults.
I have been trying to think of what to say in this venue for several months now. On the one hand, I have to speak to myself, my inner peace, my optimistic set of world beliefs. As I have said, one lesson that I have learned through this is that life is extraordinarily precious. There is a part of my soul that wishes to forgive Rigoberto. I wish to believe in him. I want to believe that bad things can happen to good people. And if the court's opinion is that this is a good man that made a mistake, the magnitude of which he understands, then I would argue for leniency. Could I know for certain repentance and knowledge that he would spend his life trying to make up for his actions, I would be the first in line asking for leniency.
The problem is that it is easy for me to stand here and argue for leniency - I lived. Because on the other hand, I have to speak for those that cannot. And I wonder what would the three of them say if they could come back to this existence for just this day? Not being able to enjoy the simple act of living themselves any more, would they have similar ideals as me as to the preciousness of life? Something tells me that they would not be as forgiving.
Conflicted as I am on this, I can thus give the court no clear direction as to my preferences regarding the sentencing of this man that took so much from me. I have no choice but to return to the Code of Hammurabi.
And so I throw Rigoberto Arrazola to the river of Justice...