October 11, 2009
A Father's Last Moments
The Day Our Lives Changed Forever
by Mark Richards
It was a normal evening Lorraine and I did our normal things we always did on Saturday evenings with one exception our Ashleah had gone to take four girls she barely knew to a dance in Lubbock, TX to celebrate one of the girls birthdays.
I will share here some of the things I play over time and time again in my mind of the hours prior leading up to the tragedy. That Saturday morning was a normal morning in our house, Ashleah and Kassandra always looked forward to our ritual family breakfast at our favorite little Mexican eatery Mi Mexico. Ashleah called me from her room about 9am and said, "Daddy what time we going?" I didn't have to ask what she meant. I knew already she wanted dad to take her to breakfast. I replied "As soon as you're ready baby. Everyone else will be ready in 15 minutes." Ash was walking into our room in less than 5 min! In anything else, she would take two hours to get ready, but when it comes to Saturday morning breakfast-watch out!
After breakfast we were all sitting at the table at the restaurant, and Ashleah ask what we were going to do today. Our family would always do things together. The girls and their friends always would rather be at our house than out doing other things. We replied that we would have to go to Lubbock to return my rental car from the week prior business trip to Canada. She said "After I get off work at 5pm, we should all meet in Lubbock and go eat and see a movie." We all agreed that would be fun! By this time it was 10:50am at the restaurant and Ashleah got up from the table and said, "I have to go get ready for work", and told Lorraine "I will call you mommy after awhile and see where y'all are at, I get off at 5pm." She walked around the table gave everyone kisses, and as she got to me, I stood up to hug her and she kissed me on the lips and said, "I wove you daddy." She pinched my sides as she said it, and turned and walked towards the door. But just before walking outside, she stopped for some reason, turned and looked back at us as she was holding the door. She smiled with her beautiful smile, waved, and walked out. That would be the last time we would see our baby girl alive!
As planned, Lorraine and I left for our 45 minute drive south to Lubbock from our home in Plainview at 4pm. Lorraine texted Ashleah and told her we were leaving to drop the car off at the airport. Ashleah replied, "Okay mommy. I get off in an hour and me and Mattie will meet y'all there". We arrived in Lubbock to drop the car off, and as we are leaving, Lorraine received a text from Ashleah. "Mommy, Erica just came in and asked me to drive her car with three other girls to Lubbock to the dance to celebrate one of their b-days." Lorraine replied back, "Why do you have to drive them?" Ashleah replied "They need a designated driver." Lorraine called Ashleah and reminded her of our rules and beliefs about being out after midnight and that no good things happen after that. Ashleah herself had come to us just a month before and said she had been praying for her friends that would drive back from Lubbock after the dance. She explained that she didn't feel it was a good idea to be out so late. After Lorraine and her get off the phone, Lorraine told her, "Babe, we trust you and your decisions, so you do what you feel you should do. But dad and I don't want you to go." They hung up and Ashleah called me about 10 min later and said, "Daddy I know you and mom don't want me to do this, and I understand. I really did want to spend the evening with you and mom, but something is telling me I need to take them." She went on to say, "You know you can trust me. I just feel I need to get them home safe, and if something was to happen to them I would feel responsible." I replied back, "Baby, as mommy said, we trust your decision. We don't want you to go, but we know you will make the right decision." This was the last time I would hear her voice, and she said, "Thanks daddy… my big papa… I wove you." I replied, "I love you to baby girl. I will see you when you get home." Bye, baby." Bye, daddy." Ashleah texted her mom when she arrived at the dance to tell her they made it. And Lorraine texted her back to remind her to call or text when they left to head home.
Lorraine and I went to lay down about midnight I had dozed off around 1am but Lorraine couldn't sleep so she started reading. At around 3am Ashleah text Lorraine to tell her they were stopping at Whataburger to get some food and something to drink before making the 45 min commute back to Plainview. About 3:25am Ashleah text Lorraine and said they were leaving Lubbock and would be home in 40 min. At 3:55am Lorraine text Ashleah asking her "are you okay?" she waited 5 min with no reply. Lorraine was dialing Ashleah number and her phone rings and on the other end its one of the girls saying "miss Richards Ashleah has been in an accident you need to come now" I had awoke around 3:50am right before Lorraine had sent the first text and I had already began to get dressed. Lorraine keep asking "is she okay?" the young lady would just say "I don't know you need to come now" we jumped in the car and headed south toward Lubbock on I-27 with Lorraine still on the phone. At that time Lorraine began to break down and handed the phone to me and I ask again "is Ashleah okay?" the young girl would say the same I don't know you need to come now. I ask her if she could get to Ashleah and she said she was holding her hand, I ask her to put the phone to her ear and she did. I began talking to Ashleah and repeating how special she is and how much we love her and daddy and mommy are on their way hoping and praying to get a response of daddy I'm okay just hurting but I'm okay but instead silence. My heart began to ache in such a way that I had never felt I just knew that my baby girl was gone. I just knew.
As we top the hill and still on the phone I see the emergency lights and then I began to really panic knowing my baby was in those lights. I just hang up the phone and start trying to see Ashleah and the car. As we approach the DPS officer waved us in because he knew us from church. I roled my window down and I asked him if my baby was okay. And he shaked his head no. As we pulled we saw the car Ashleah was in, and the young lady that had called was standing there still holding her hand. Then we see Ashleah andt no one else was around. I jumped out of the car and ran up to her. She was laying there with her eyes closed in a pile of metal. I reached in began holding her and talking to her, Lorraine went around to the passenger side and climbed in and started praying for her and holding her as well. I could not believe what we were seeing, I looked at her and as I held her in my arms I thought, "Is this real God? You gave her to me and now this?" I started to cry softly as I held my baby knowing she was gone. my heart was crying in ways I didn't know it could.
I look over and see Kasandra and Micah drive up. So I left Lorraine there with Ashleah, and I went over to Kass and told her, "Baby, Ashleah is gone. I'm sorry." I was hurting for her, and wanted her okay. I did not let her go over to Ashleah as I was fearful that she would go into labor. Lorraine came over to Kass, so I went back to Ashleah and began talking to her. I pleaded for her to open her eyes. And as I knelt down by her side I began to feel a warmness surrounding us. A peace that I can't explain filled me in an environment that was far from peaceful. I knew then due to our faith in God, that our baby, our Ashleah, was entering in to her eternal home. About that time, Lorraine and Pastor Steve Martinez came to the side where I knelt and said, "Its time to go." I didn't want to leave her, but knew I had to. I stood and held her again kissed her numerous times closed my eyes and ask God to never let me forget what I feel, see and hear this night. As I walked away I could feel Ashleah looking at us. I turned again towards her with a strong urgency to go back to her, but I was stopped by DPS officers.
As we drove away all I could think of is, "What's next? How can life go on?"