A tragedy like the car crash that killed four Santa Fe teenagers on June 28 leaves even strangers reeling with grief. But few in our community are strangers to the victims and their families. At SFR, the events of June 28 hit particularly close to home. The sole survivor and driver from the teenagers’ car, Avree Koffman, is the daughter of one of our staff members, Dan Koffman. Several of our contributors also had personal relationships with the victims who did not survive.
This week, in print, we focus on those victims. Scott Owens, who is accused of causing a drunk-driving accident that resulted in the teenagers’ deaths, was scheduled for arraignment on June 30 and an investigation of the case is ongoing, according to law enforcement. The latest reporting on Owens and his arraignment can be found here.
It’s lunchtime the Monday after the Old Las Vegas Highway crash. A KRQE reporter is recording video testimony from a pack of teenagers in Cathedral Park. Occasionally the teens whoop before the camera.
“These little guys last night were talking about violence and I told them, ‘Just don’t ever do any violence in my daughter’s name,’” John Simmons says, motioning at the kids. But some of them have sworn off drinking and driving, too, he says, and that makes him hopeful.
Simmons’ dreadlocks, as always, are piled in a tower under a hat and his eyes are hidden behind large sunglasses. Sorrow is reflected in the shudder of his voice.
His cell phone rings.
“Rose, killed dead instantly in a car crash…15 years old,” he says into the phone, a simple summary of the known facts.
He listens and answers, “I want your prayers; that’s all I need. That’s about it at this point.”
John’s daughter, Rose Simmons, always rode shotgun in her best friend Avree Koffman’s ’92 Subaru, Simmons tells SFR. Early Sunday morning, they were hit by Owens’ Jeep Cherokee. Rose and three other teens in the car died.
Simmons says it’s still unbelievable, even though he saw it with his own eyes—on a sheriff deputy’s camera.
“I didn’t want to look at the picture, but I didn’t want Gwyn [Rose’s mother] to look at the picture either,” Simmons says. “…My body was quivering like I can’t even remember. It was like I was freezing my ass off, even though I was totally warm.”
Rose’s mother, Gwyn Madeen, soon arrives and sits beside John. They beam with pride when they talk about Rose, and also Avree, who had been living in Rose’s room for at least three months.
Both girls were active in Earth Care International’s Youth Allies program, which encourages environmental leadership and advocacy. Their interests ranged from animal rights to sustainability to water rights, as well as the Youth Media Project.
Simmons and Madeen remember the girls’ campaign to end car idling, particularly in fast-food drive-throughs. There’s a public service video for this campaign on YouTube featuring Koffman’s dark red Subaru, with its Obama “Hope” decal and “Love Animals Don’t Eat Them” bumper sticker.
There was also the late-night “guerilla planting.”
“She would be sneaky, but sneaky about really interesting, bizarre stuff. They would be out there sneaking around planting flowers,” Simmons says.
One by one, teenagers shuffle up to express their condolences. So does a group of joggers. Madeen says she doesn’t know whether she’ll be following the case in the news.
“I looked at the girls’ pictures in the paper this morning, but I didn’t look at the [picture of the crushed] car or anything,” she says. “It felt like I couldn’t go there yet, but maybe in a week or something I’ll be better prepared.”
People wishing to make donations in Rose’s name should send contributions to Earth Care International.