By Chris Eversole
Courtroom 1 in the Canadian Courthouse in El Reno was transformed Monday into a place of prayer as the criminal justice community and victims of crime shed tears and dedicated themselves to overcoming grief through faith and mutual support.
Among those participating in the Victims’ Rights Vigil were Cory Carson and his daughters Brinley and Bella, who are students in Mustang.
The girls were with their mother, Amanda “Mandy” Starkey-Carson, 37, when a drunken driver struck her sport utility vehicle at 10:59 p.m. on New Year’s Eve 2016.
Just moments before the collision, troopers clocked Craig Edward Maker’s car at 116 mph.
Starkey-Carson died later that evening. Passenger Nhu Huong, a former exchange student from Vietnam who was visiting the family, died two weeks later.
Brinley, now 6, and Bella, 10, also were injured in the crash, which occurred on southbound Kilpatrick Turnpike at Wilshire Boulevard. They have since recovered from their physical injuires.
“I want the girls to have whatever healing they can have,” Cory Carson said after the vigil.
During the vigil, he thanked Canadian County victim witness coordinator Sarah Samples for keeping him informed during the legal process.
“There was never time in this process when I had questions about what was going on or where I needed to be,” he said.
Carson also praised District Attorney Mike Fields and his top assistant, Eric Epplin, for their success in prosecuting the driver, who has four prior DUI convictions.
Last month, Canadian County District Judge Paul Hesse sentenced Maker, 31, of Edmond, to life in prison after he pleaded no contest to two counts of second-degree murder and two drunken driving offenses.
“There were opportunities when it would have been easy to settle on the prosecution of this individual,” Carson said.
“They held their ground. Eric and Mike, they held their ground.”
Carson noted that life sentences in DUI cases are rare.
“We are incredibly blessed and fortunate that this man, who had a very spotted history, received life,” Carson said.
“Absolutely hats off, gentlemen. I never imagined such a just outcome.”
Keynote speaker Tonia Byers, of Moore, spoke passionately about overcoming the effect of being sexually abused for four years as a child.
While some victims withdraw, she “put on a mask” to hide her grief.
“I was an A and B student,” she said, “and I was a cheerleader and on the honor roll.”
She was affected deeply, however.
“No words to describe the black abyss you fall into when you’re grieving,” she said.
Byers, 41, said over the years since her abuse, she has dedicated herself to not letting her experience stop her from living life to the fullest.
“I don’t have to let these moments consume me,” she said. “Our attackers aren’t stronger than us.
“We should not have any more guilt or shame. This was done to us, not by us.”
Ana Romero, of El Reno, spoke about how she has coped since a family member killed her daughter, Alicsa Sage, on May 6, 2014.
“My family didn’t understand how I forgave; that’s a hard one,” Romero said.
“Forgiveness is a big part of healing. You have to let that go and move on.”
Fields, the district attorney, praised the victims who participated in the vigil.
“I think it is fitting here today that we have brave people who could stand up when it would be so easy to hide,” he said.
“We are dedicated to providing them access to the services and respect they deserve.”