The man who drove his car through a red light and killed six people on Mother's Day two years ago ran a solitary race in prison Saturday to benefit the sole survivor of the accident, 7-year-old Brandy Morrill.
While he would like to run away from the excruciating memories of that day, Steve Rodriguez instead chose to run a 5K memorial race to remind others of the immeasurable harm drinking and driving can cause.He also ran to lessen the relentless guilt he feels over surviving the Mother's Day tragedy.
"How could anyone hurt another more than by killing their entire family? If Brandy had not survived, I don't think I could have made it through all of this," Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez ran laps at the prison Saturday morning at 9 a.m. - the same time dozens of other Utahns were running through Magna Park, participating in the Second Annual Morrill Memorial. And in the yard of the Women's Correctional Facility, more than 20 women who earn an average of 53 cents a hour for their prison chores, also ran laps and donated generously to help Brandy.
The race was sponsored by Rodriguez and his family. It represents the uncommon friendship and humanity that bonds two families who share the grief and struggle of the DUI aftermath.
"We were devastated by the accident, too," Rodriguez's sister, Virginia Mondragon explains. "Steve is a shy person who seldom drinks. We were stunned by the accident. We wondered what could we do to help Brandy. Material things could never replace the family she lost."
Rodriguez is serving a five-year term for the deaths of Richard Miller, 30; Diane Morrill, 29 and her four children: Bridgette, 10; Cherese, 8, Jack, 6, and Sandy, 5 (Brandy's twin).
On the night of the tragedy, Rodriguez had been told he would likely lose custody of his children. He had been laid off from Kennecott. His wife was divorcing him. His world seemed to be collapsing, so he went to the bowling alley and had a few beers to forget for a while.
His vehicle was airborne when it came down and slammed into the Morrill automobile. The Magna intersection resembled a battlefield, with children strewn about like broken dolls on the road.
Brandy and her family were on their way to deliver a Mother's Day gift to their grandmother, Nancy Clegg, in West Jordan.
Brandy now lives with her grandmother.
Since the moment Rodriguez was informed of the deaths he had caused, his thoughts have centered mostly on Brandy and her grandmother.
Without knowing what to say, Rodriguez called Clegg to apologize soon after the accident. To his surprise, she responded without hate and with compassion.
When he offered her his first prison paycheck of $5 from doing chores, he thought she would be offended, but she accepted his help graciously.
Now, he splits his weekly paycheck four equal ways between his three children who live in California and Brandy.
Sharing her brother's remorse and desire to somehow help Brandy, Mondragon has extended her friendship to Clegg and Brandy. She phones on a regular basis to find out how Brandy, who suffered severe injuries in the accident, is doing. On Mother's Day, she takes them a potted plant, a "very small to remind them of our concern and love."
Rodriguez has nine brothers and sisters who visit him in prison and organize activities--such as the race--to assist Brandy.
"When a member of your family's name is in the newspaper connected with such a horrible accident like this, the whole family is hurt. His children were called names at school. During the time before the trial, Steve would hide rather than have his kids be seen with him," said Mondragon.
At the Board of Pardons hearing in September, Clegg and Mondragon embraced after the board members pronounced that Rodrigues would spend five years in prison. A guard observing this scene of friendship told them, "I have never seen anything like this. Usually an inmate and his victims are like angry animals in the same cage at these hearings."
Mondragon hopes the public involvement in raising funds for Brandy will dissolve some of the stereotypes attached to DUI driversl.
When Rodrigues has finished his prison time, he plans to travel the state, lecturing to high school students about the stupidity of handling depression and anger through alcohol. He hopes Brandy's grandmother will join him in his crusade.
Today, Brandy has recovered from most of her injuries. The headaches she had from her concussion have almost stopped. She is an enthusiastic first-grader who spends her free time playing with her cousins.
Mondragon wonders if Brandy will accept their gestures of compassion when she is older.
"Sometimes it's hard to know how to appropriately help someone. If Brandy's bitter, we'll understand. We often wonder how we would react if our situations were swithched, and we have lost our loved one."