Nine years ago, Edgar Vasquez came home from work, tired and hungry. A construction worker, he had been so busy trying to finish a house that he hadn’t even paused to eat lunch.
A friend stopped by, too, and wanted Edgar to go to the convenience store for a few beers.
“My dad didn’t drink when I was little. … He went to church all the time. But when I was 7 or 8 years, he start to drink. That’s hard for me to see my dad drink all the time, in trouble with my mom.
“I put it in my mind I don’t want the life my dad had. I try to go different.”
Initially, Edgar told his friend no, as he had before when other friends wanted him to party. But something happened differently that night.
Because that night, Feb. 27, 2003, with a blood alcohol content of .21, Edgar drove his truck the wrong way on I-84 and, at 98 miles per hour, slammed head-on into a car driven by Shawn Marti, who was driving his family home after watching his sister in a high school musical.
“In the hospital, they told me I have alcohol in my blood. Where came from? ... But I don’t remember anything.”
Shawn and Sage, his infant daughter, were killed instantly. Natalie Marti was in a coma for three weeks and would take years to recover from a traumatic brain injury.
“When my brother says two people died, my heart was swimming. Broken up. Who are they? I don’t know.”
Edgar went to the hospital in critical condition; he regained consciousness two days later. (His passenger was treated and released.) Edgar lost his left hand, amputated above his wrist.
“I told the doctor not to give me pain medication. … That pain is much greater for the Marti family than me just losing a hand.” (from a pre-sentencing transcript)
He pled guilty and was sentenced to 40 years in prison.
“If I’m drunk and drive, what can I say? ‘No, I’m doing good way?’ No, because I’m wrong. I’m wrong what I am doing. ...
“The years … I don’t know how to explain to you. But the years, they don’t get people back.”
At the sentencing, another thing happened that would change his life. Before he was taken back to jail, Natalie Marti walked up to him and, through a translator, told him that she forgave him.
“Before, heaviness. A weight. … I don’t know if you believe in miracles or not, but it’s like for me, a huge present. Many things to say, but I think I don’t have a word for that. … I feel like peace. Tranquility.”
Natalie describes Edgar as a good man who made a really bad, wrong choice.
“I don’t know Miss Natalie before, but she’s like … she’s like a big heart, strong heart. … When she forgive me, my life changed a little bit more. The pain I feel go a different way.”
As Natalie began rebuilding her life, she became an ardent public speaker against drinking and driving, telling her story candidly and passionately. She enrolled in college and, for a class project in communication, wrote Edgar in prison. That led to a visit, seven years after the crash.
It was an unusual request from a victim, and not all such requests are granted. But this one was.
“All the time I think how can I help her, you know? When I’m sleeping, when I wake up — I pray to God. But now, forgiveness is different.
“ … She (asked me), ‘When I talk to my audience, can you do this for me?’ I say yes. … I don’t know if it’s big things, because I know I can’t help her with big things, but anything I can do now, I do for her.”
Edgar wrote a letter that Natalie reads as part of her presentation. She later made a video interview, so Edgar could make his own plea in person.
“It’s like nobody give you a guarantee your life being safe when you are drunk and drive. Your life is in danger and all the people’s lives are in danger, too. Just not your life — all people’s lives, too.”
Although the idea of forgiveness is not a part of Natalie’s powerful and stern talks to new drivers or DUI offenders, she does speak of it to other groups. That she was able to forgive Edgar is her own story. That Edgar was able to receive that forgiveness — and forgive himself as well — is a different facet. He writes, in answer to the question:
“I now knew that this would be not only a battle for my sanity but that this would (also) be a spiritual battle. This was only the start of the healing process for me.
“I had to come to terms with my life if I were to come to understand forgiveness for what I had done.
“I asked our Father up there watching over us to show me the way or to help me overcome all the hurt and sadness that I had caused. ...
“God not only showed me the path, but he did more. To show me how to forgive (myself), he changed me in ways that would not only affect me. … He showed me that miracles do happen.”
The miracle for him was Natalie’s offer of friendship. Her strength has become his strength, and through that, Edgar has re-affirmed his own faith.
“To love is to live and share, and to understand is to respect and admire. ...
“The more you love … and the more you forgive, the more care you can bring. Because (the person) who loves, radiates love and wants the best for all.”
Prison is not, as one might expect, easy. “I ask God to keep me strong in here,” he says.
“Prison is no good place for anybody. You want to be like a good person, or you want to be a bad person? There’s two ways; You have to take your choice.
“I want to take the right things — because it’s easy? No, it’s harder, I think, to do the right things. It’s hard to stay away; in prison is a lot of trouble.”
Edgar is now 41 years old. In 2016, after serving the minimum 13 years, Edgar will be eligible for parole. Whether he stays in the United States or is deported is undetermined. Before he is released, he will go through a drug and alcohol program.
“No, I no drink no more. Even if I can, I no want to. I know alcohol, for me right now, is something to destroy people.
“All my life, for me, I tried to help everybody. If I saw some anybody (who needed help), I help them. All my life I try not to hurt people all the time. … This time I hurt a lot.”
Edgar has been influenced by Natalie and considers that he might also do public speaking when he is released. He has his own story, his painful truth about drinking and driving.
From his letter for Natalie’s presentation:
“You can’t fix the past. But the present (and future), yes, you can.”
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 email@example.com.