Halloween should be a time of whimsy, when both kids and adults decorate and dress up—whether scary or silly, horrifying or hilarious. But for the Dyess family, Halloween in 2010 was a different kind of horror.
Jean Dyess, her mother-in-law Karla and eight of Karla’s grandkids began what they thought would be the traditional Halloween trick-or-treat adventure with a neighborhood friend. As Jean and Karla towed the children across the street, all dressed up and excited for the night’s events, they heard the rev of an engine and saw a truck charging to the top of the hill. Karla pushed the young children surrounding her back, and Jean, carrying her four-year-old daughter, Jennifer, and holding the hand of her seven-year-old daughter Jessika, threw both kids to the curb just before being struck by the truck.
After the impact, Jean was flipped and dragged by the truck for several feet before she was freed from the truck. The driver of the truck turned the corner, stopped to look back, and drove off as his passengers said “you hit her, GO!” Karla ran to her daughter–in-law lying in the street and talked to her until the ambulance arrived. Neighbors who saw the incident jumped in their car to try to track down the driver, but he got away.
None of the nine children trick-or-treating with Jean and Karla were injured. Jean died that night.
Twelve days after Jean was killed the driver was found and arrested. In interviews, he admitted to have been under the influence of both drugs and alcohol, but because he was not arrested until nearly two weeks after the crash, he was charged with vehicular manslaughter, among other charges, but not DUI.
Karla and the Dyess family worked with Mak Walker, a Victim Advocate from the East New Mexico chapter. Mak gave Karla a bit of advice that would greatly assist in the upcoming criminal case—to write everything down while it is still fresh in her mind. It was a difficult and emotional task, but when it came time for trial, Karla was able to refer to her notebook and provide the information from that night to the District Attorney.
The April following her death, the city of Carlsbad, New Mexico held a ceremony in Jean’s honor at the “Our Town Hero” monument at a local park, and dedicated a day in her memory—“Jean Dyess Day.” Each year the Dyess family goes to the monument and releases florescent green (Jean’s favorite color) balloons with messages to Jean. Karla learned that this was a great way to help her grandchildren deal with their loss. “It is hard for them to comprehend death, but writing letters to her helps them with their grief. They call it ‘airmail to heaven.’”