By Kelli Donlen
Three days after turning 15, Zachary Gonzalez was killed by a drugged driver while riding his bike with friends. The driver was found to have valium and cocaine in his system and had five cocaine pipes in his vehicle that all tested positive. His only concern following the crash was getting his “oxys” (OxyContin) out of his car.
Kelli Donlen, Zachary’s aunt and legal guardian, was notified of the crash by the police and told Zachary was killed on scene. They were not allowed to go to the site of the crash and struggled because they were never able to confirm for themselves that it was indeed Zachary. Kelli said she wanted to believe it was a mistake if she didn’t see her nephew for herself. It was Zachary’s friend who confirmed for her that it was indeed Zachary.
Shortly after, Kelli learned that the cause of the crash was placed on Zachary because he and his friends were riding their bikes on a non-pedestrian road. The impaired driver was charged with a DUI and possession of drug paraphernalia. He was sentenced from one to six months in jail and was released on probation after only serving one month. Since his release, he has since been arrested for being drunk in someone else’s car and plead to Disorderly Practice; however, it was not a violation of his parole.
Kelli and her husband, who is the brother to Zachary’s mother, obtained custody of him at the age of 9. Kelli shared Zachary’s father was killed by a substance impaired driver when Zachary was three years old. When Zachary was 9 years old, his mother passed away from leukemia and since that time, Kelli described Zachary as quiet and keeping to himself, trying to make sense of all his losses. Shortly before turning 15, he was beginning to come out of his shell and enjoying life again. For his 15th birthday the family took a trip to Disney World and Kelli said they had a wonderful time. They returned home on Saturday evening and it was the next day, Sunday, January 19, 2014 that Zachary was killed.
The tears and heartache still have not gone away for Kelli, they never will. She struggles with the fact that the man who killed Zachary never should have been driving. She struggles with never having the chance to say goodbye. She does her best to remember all the good times with Zachary but finds herself always thinking of the “firsts” that Zachary will never experience such as prom, graduation, college, driving, marriage and having children. She tries to stay busy and loves talking about Zachary with others. Zachary was active on the wrestling team at his school and the family founded The Zachary Gonzalez Scholarship Program in his honor. Every year they will give out two, $1000 scholarships to students on the wrestling team. They gave out their first two scholarships this past April and plan to do so for as long as they can. The family also participated in their first WALK Like MADD event on September 19th in Philadelphia. Their team, Team Zach, had over 30 members and raised over $1000. Kelli is also working with Representative John Galloway on House Bill #1076 in Zach’s honor that asks for heavier charges in substance impaired crashes when a death of injury occurs. Kelli said she will never stop advocating for stiffer laws and honoring Zachary’s life by telling others about him.
On July 9, 2011, 7-year-old Xitclalli “Chilli” Vaszquez spent the day at the mall with her sister, cousin, and aunt. She got her hair cut so that she would look extra pretty for her 8th birthday that was just three days away. On their way home, a drunk driver hit the car she was riding in head-on. The doctors didn’t think she would survive—but she did. And her life will never be the same.
Chilli is now paraplegic, which means she has total paralysis of her lower body from the breastbone down.
As part of her healing journey, Chilli decided to write a letter to the offender, which her mother read in court. Here is the letter, as written by Chilli:
The offender in Chilli’s crash pled guilty and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. He’s eligible for parole in five years. Chilli is hoping that he writes her back some day.
Chilli and her family now work with MADD to help raise awareness about the dangers of drunk driving by speaking at MADD events across North Texas. Chilli also shares her story through the Texas Department of Transportation’s (TxDOT) Faces of Drunk Driving campaign. Read more about Chilli and see the other Faces of Drunk Driving victims and survivors at facesofdrunkdriving.com.