On Friday June 16, 2000, my cousin Kathy Inman, her husband Billy, their son Dustin and beloved family dog Lucky were traveling from their home in Woodstock, Georgia to their weekend retreat in the North Georgia mountains. They had planned to spend Father's Day together and relax. The family arrived in Ellijay, Georgia and was stopped behind another vehicle at a redlight at an intersection, when out of the blue, an vehicle came barreling from behind and crashed into them at what authorities later documented was 62 MPH. The force of the crash wedged Kathy's Grand Am into the car in front of them, and it completely crushed the backseat, killing Dustin and Lucky instantly. Kathy and Billy were both wearing their seat belts but the force of the crash threw them from the vehicle. They were airlifted to the trauma center in Atlanta where Kathy went into a coma as did Billy.
In the meantime, Gonzalo Harrell-Gonzales, the man who hit them and took responsibility for the accident saying he fell asleep at the wheel, had complained of stomach pains after the accident. He was taken to a local hospital in Gilmer County where he later escaped and went on the run for five years. It was also discovered he was an illegal alien who had used a Mexican birth certificate and Matricula Consular Card to obtain a North Carolina drivers license. That was in fact a "license to kill" according to TownHall.com columnist Terence Jeffrey. While the Gilmer County grand jury indicted Harrell-Gonzales for vehicular homicide and his face was broadcast on America's Most Wanted, it took five years to track him down, mostly due to the efforts of Billy Inman.
Billy came out of his coma first and he suffered some memory loss and had a terrible time coping with the death of his beloved son. Kathy eventually came out of her coma after several days, and because she suffered a stroke on both sides,as a result of damage to her carotid arteries, she faced a very long, painful rehabilitation. Today, nearly six years after the accident, Billy works full-time and on the side he lobbies for immigration reform and Kathy is for the most part fully functional and able to take care of herself and Billy, including cooking, cleaning and anything else that needs to be done in and out of the house. Her only limitation is that she remains in a wheelchair, but she is determined to walk again and she will.
Several months ago, Gonzalo Harrell-Gonzalez was caught. He was in a Birmingham jail claiming to be his brother. Authorities eventually used medical evidence to prove he was who they thought he was. He is now facing arraignment this Friday, and after nearly six years of waiting, Kathy and Billy Inman, and their families can now face the man who killed their son and changed their lives forever.
This tragedy has had a profound effect on the family. That first week was hell, pure hell. While their daughter and son-in-law lie in comas in the hospital, Kathy's parents had to make arrangements to bury their beloved grandchild. The grief suffered by all those who loved Dustin was incomprehensible. It all seemed so strange, just a few weeks before the accident, Dustin had turned sixteen, he had his whole life ahead of him, and in one moment it was over. It's still hard to believe.
Tomorrow will be a hard day for Kathy and Billy, for they finally face the man who took their son from them and altered the course of their lives. Dustin would have been 22 years old this month and every birthday and holiday they are reminded he will never celebrate with them. Every day they are reminded that their son will never grow up, attend college, get married, have children of his own, and grow old and gray. For Dustin and his parents, all the hopes and dreams of a wonderful life ended in just a split second. But Kathy and Billy are very strong, courageous and wonderful people and they have come a long way since that terrible night and they continue to make strides every day. Their marriage is stronger than ever and they have the unwavering love and support from family and friends to see them through it. Many people might have given up in the face of such adversity, but not them, it only made them stronger.