The sentencing took six hours. She listened to him speak, to his family speak. Her family spoke as well it was cathartic in many ways. But now it was over, and he had been sentenced to 40 years for drinking and driving and killing her husband and 5-month-old daughter.
She says: Everyone was leaving the courtroom. I saw him at his table, head hanging down. I thought, this is almost over, but not all the way over yet.
I thought, it could be over when I could talk to him and when I could tell him to his face that I forgive him.
Natalie Marti was the only one in her family who survived the car crash on Feb. 27, 2003, when Edgar Vasquez Hernandez drove his pickup the wrong way on Interstate 84. The violent impact split the sedan in half.
I was never mad at God, thankfully, but I was mad at the situation that I was alive. I hated that I was still alive. I had no desire to keep living because I felt like I had nothing to live for anymore.
Natalie was in a coma for three weeks, through the funeral of her husband and daughter, Shawn and Sage Marti. She learned of their deaths weeks later, as she was able to comprehend and process the information. It took her months to heal from a broken neck, nose, arm, hand and fingers, and years to heal from her traumatic brain injury. Her heart thats another matter.
I know one of the stages of grieving is anger. But I never felt that toward (Edgar). I felt more concerned about myself. My feelings were more inward what do I do with my life? My husband and daughter are dead.
Natalie felt a flash of anger toward Edgar just once. It was nine months after the sentencing, when Edgar wrote a letter to the judge asking that his sentence be reduced because he missed his family.
I didnt go into the sentencing thinking he should get this many years because, no, a lifetime wouldnt even be long enough to do that. But I thought, You only have 13 years fixed that you have to be away from your family. I have a lifetime. That made me mad and I felt anger for several days.
But Natalie is a rare person. When pushed, she retrieves a quote by Camilla Eyring Kimball that propels her: You do not find the happy life. You make it. In the face of her anger, she prayed that it would go away.
I told (God) that Im experiencing these feelings and I dont want them anymore. (I knew) I would not be able to heal if I experienced these feelings. ...
I (could) live the rest of my life in anger. But I couldnt be happy if I continued to feel that and I want to be happy. I didnt ever think that I could find happiness after the death of Shawn and Sage, but I am. I am truly happy.
And it doesnt take away my heart still aching and hurting, because I miss them every single day. But I dont have these horrible bad angry feelings toward Edgar. ...
Its just like taking off this weight and dropping it at Edgars feet and telling him, Im not going to carry this around any more.
And so, that day in the courtroom, Natalie walked over to Edgar with her brother-in-law to translate and spoke to him.
I told Edgar that I forgive him and that I hoped God would help him during this time. And he thanked me and said he hopes and prays for me every day. ...
I thought I was closing the book on that. I thought thats just what I needed to start the healing process.
Little did I know that, no, I would need to go visit him at the prison and create a personal relationship with him to really close that book no, I know how to say it: Open the book for the healing process. Thats a better way to say it, because its wide open now.
For a class at Boise State, Natalie had to write a paper about human communication. She decided to use her own experience the traumatic brain injury and how it affected her ability to communicate; and that she communicated with Shawn and Sage differently because they were dead. Then she wrote Edgar a letter inquiring about how communication with his family had changed.
Edgar had, at that time, served six and a half years of his sentence. He wrote back a 4 1/2 page letter.
Reading the letter just did wonders for me. I had no idea getting a letter from Edgar would do that. He was so remorseful; he told me he prays for me every single day. He was so sorrowful for what he has done and would give his life for me. I felt, like, wow. I was happy to know that this has changed him so much in what I feel like is a good way.
Ive come to find out now he doesnt even remember that night. He has no memory of it, but he still takes full responsibility. That meant a lot to me.
Five months later, Natalie decided to visit Edgar in person at the prison. She was his first visitor ever. They talked for two hours straight that first time.
I dont ever want anyone to think that because I forgive Edgar and because Ive become friends with Edgar that doesnt take away the fact that he did something so wrong.
First, he broke the law. Second, he killed my husband and daughter. I dont ever say I was in a car accident; its not an accident to drink and then drive.
What he did is wrong and will always be that way. But I can forgive him for making a wrong choice.
Thats a really fine line, and one that most of us are unskilled at maneuvering. Natalie adds more to the challenge.
Because he drank and drove doesnt mean hes not a good person. Hes a good person who made a really wrong, bad choice.
It has been really good for me to come to know him as a person and then to separate this good person (from the one) who made a really bad choice.
Edgar lost his hand in the crash, from his forearm down. When conversation veers toward justice, Natalie says that hes already made his own punishment.
Knowing his whole life that he killed two people and a constant reminder without his left hand. I cannot undo what he has done.
Doctors told Natalie it was a miracle that she was alive. With that gift, she has searched for how to live her life and what to do with it. Part time, she works as a hair stylist out of her home. The rest of the time, she speaks sometimes several times a week, with a goal of speaking nationally.
Some of the healing is trying to make as much good (as possible) come from this horrible experience.
Natalie speaks about overcoming adversity. Finding happiness. Making good choices. Forgiveness. Persuading people not to drive under the influence. She speaks most frequently to driver education classes and to those who have been sentenced for a DUI, where she cuts them very little slack.
Theres this quote Im starting to use now from MADD: Promoting responsible drinking and driving is like promoting drive-by shootings.
Ive gotten really good at these statistics: Every 90 seconds every minute and a half a drunk-driving crash occurs. Every single day, 30 people are killed. I just dont understand why there arent harsher laws.
Natalie says that while Edgar intentionally drank and then drove his truck, he didnt decide to kill her husband and daughter. She cant imagine how difficult it would be to forgive an intentionally caused crime.
I am thankful that I dont know that kind of pain, but I do know that there would be healing for that as well.
(For a while), I thought the only way I could heal was if Shawn and Sage came back. I have found that, no, I can forgive Edgar. I can become his friend. I can let go of these bitter feelings toward the man who killed my family. He doesnt have that title any more. ...
Forgiving. That brings the greatest healing.
Know someone living from the heart? Idaho Statesman photojournalist Katherine Jones spotlights someone in the Treasure Valley who influences our lives not only by what they do, but how and why they do it. Do you know someone we should know? Call 377-6414 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.