Family talks about loss after fatal accident
Written by By BILL RYAN Sentinel Staff Writer
Friday, 05 February 2010 10:41
The conviction and sentencing of Cory Mendoza to 39 years in prison only closes one small chapter for the family who lost much more than the lives of cherished family members Sharon and Bill DeWitt in a fatal crash on Oct. 5, 2008 at the hands of Mendoza.
|Bill DeWitt Jr. from left, Shelen Stevens and Greg Stevens after verdict and sentencing Wednesday afternoon. 2/3/10 (Photo: J.D. Pooley/Sentinel-Tribune)
Shelen Stevens, daughter of the DeWitts and driver of the van which was struck by Mendoza's car, was asked after the sentencing about her reaction to the sentence.
"Cory Mendoza handed me a life sentence," Stevens told the media. "I still have to live with this for the rest of my life."
"It's not over for us," her husband, Greg added.
In addition to the loss of her parents, who were both 69 at their death, Stevens shared how they also served as a sitter for her son, Shayne. Stevens, herself, was severely injured and is likely to forever have diminished use of her hands and arms. She also testified during the trial she will need to have her breasts removed and because her pelvis has been damaged, she lost two inches in height.
During her impact statement for the court, she relayed how her parents considered Shayne the "sunshine of their lives."
She said her son will never again feel their arms around him or never again hear them say, "I love you." She told the court how her father tried to shield him from harm at the time of the crash.
The Stevens both spoke about the post-traumatic stress disorder inflicted upon their son. Since the accident he has regressed. While once potty-trained and drinking from a cup, he again wears diapers and uses a bottle.
Greg Stevens was the first to speak to the media following the court proceedings on Wednesday.
"Today is not a victory for our family. We lost our cherished loved ones," he stated reiterating his son Shayne is "still traumatized."
The family all tried to focus on finding some positives despite their devastation.
"We are a little safer today because he is off the streets," Mr. Stevens said. "Even one person drinking and driving is too many."
He also shared his hope others may learn from Mendoza's mistakes. "Maybe somebody will learn a lesson from this."
Bill DeWitt Jr. asked what is being done to find Mendoza's father, Juan, or John, as he was called at different times during the trial.
Testimony during the trial indicated he was last seen shortly after the accident by a witness who testified he picked him up on the road and took him to a residence in Henry County.
All those questioned about him during the trial say he has not been seen since.
Defense attorney Adrian Cimerman referred to him as the "disappearing dad."
"Where's Juan?" DeWitt asked. "Why isn't he an accessory to this crime?"
Testimony during the trial indicated it was Mendoza's father who purchased the alcohol which was consumed by the defendant and other underage people in the car.
Shelen Stevens questioned the parenting skills of Mendoza and his father. The defendant's infant son was an unrestrained passenger in Mendoza's car throughout the day and at the time of the accident. She expressed a wish more people would possess the parenting skills of her parents.
During her comments in the courtroom, she related a family member's belief that a car is a loaded weapon. It was "Cory Mendoza alone who chose to pull the trigger," she said.
DeWitt reminded people this could happen to any family.
His sister added, "Everyone should go home and make lasting memories; hug those they love and enjoy them with a love that endures."
Following the sentencing, Gwen Howe-Gebers, who prosecuted the case was asked for a comment and stated, "The family said it all."