Dispatches from a Reporter's Notebook

American Dreams Cut Short

Posted June 4, 2007 6:50 p.m. EDT
Updated June 4, 2007 9:42 p.m. EDT

Two young people with their entire lives ahead of them -- both of them immigrants, one from the Dominican Republic, one from England, both of them engaged to be married to their partners.  Now, one is dead and the other is behind bars.  In the words of the victim's aunt, they were living the American dream; now they (the family members left behind) are living the American nightmare

Today 26-year-old Yokairi Diaz pleaded guilty to hit-and-run and DWI for killing 23-year-old Neil Anderson in the early morning hours of Sept. 7, 2006 on Capital Boulevard.  She was not charged with manslaughter, because, according to the assistant district attorney, the accident probably would have happened if Diaz had been sober.  In addition, under a law called contributory negligence, Anderson, who had also been drinking, is considered partially legally responsible for his own death.

Anderson's family is understandably torn up by the inability of the justice system to charge Diaz with a more serious crime.  Jenny Hanna, Anderson's mother, says the way the law reads the court has allowed Diaz to get away with murder.  They feel like Anderson's death is a life sentence of grief, while Diaz will only spend eight months at the most behind bars.  There is a hole in their hearts that cannot be filled with  punishment for Diaz, or apologies for their great loss.

Diaz sobbed during the entire sentencing hearing and apologized to the family and friends of Anderson saying:  "I feel so sorry.  I know it was my fault."  Her attorney said she had been truly remorseful all along and was willing to accept whatever punishment the court offered.  While her regret appeared to be genuine, it came too late for Anderson's family who wondered many times in the past  nine months why they had not heard from the young woman.  Her attorney says he asked her not to contact Anderson's family for legal reasons. 

And then there is the fact that Diaz not only left the scene of the accident after her friend told her she hit someone, but she drove back by it 30 minutes later and failed to stop,  Instead of helping, she went home to bed.  She told police when they finally caught up with her six hours later that she was scared.

"What kind of a person would be able to sleep after killing someone?"  Hanna asked the packed courtroom today.

Chances are Anderson's family, who hasn't had a decent night of sleep since his death, will still not be well-rested tomorrow even though Diaz is behind bars.  Chances are Diaz, on her first night in jail, will also not sleep well given the challenges she has ahead of her behind bars. 

Two lives -- irreparably destroyed ... and for what?




About this Blog:

WRAL's Amanda Lamb offers a behind-the-scenes look at what TV news reporters do, the people they meet and how their jobs affect them.