Saturday, January 8, 2011

on my uncle's death

This is where it began:
Man dies in 1-car crash near Manteno

A passenger was killed when he was thrown from a convertible with the top down during a single-vehicle crash Wednesday just north of Manteno.

Gregory Kirkton, a 52-year-old resident of the Manteno area, was pronounced dead at 11:03 p.m. at the accident scene at 11500N and 1000E roads, according to Kankakee County Coroner Bob Gessner.

Gessner said the victim was riding in a car that was traveling northbound on 1000E. The car left the roadway, struck an embankment and went airborne before landing upright on its wheels, Gessner said. Kirkton was thrown from the topless convertible. It did not appear that he was wearing a seat belt, according to the coroner.

Gessner said the female driver was taken to Riverside Medical Center. The coroner's office did not have her name.

Kankakee County Sheriff's Police are reconstructing the accident. The report with further details of the mishap was not available this morning before press time.

Kirkton's autopsy is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. today.

-- From the Daily Journal, August 23, 2007
My mom is the youngest of three; Greg was the middle child, the younger of her two older brothers.

The female driver was Barbara Hambrick. My uncle rented a room in her farmhouse and frequented the bar where she bartended. He helped her out with her two little kids. He and Barb were friends.  She was responsible for his death.

On October 21, 2009, I wrote briefly on my thoughts after Barb's first trial ended in a mistrial because the jury was unable to come to a decision.

The retrial began in November of 2010.

Jury Set to Rule in Fatal DUI Case
(From the Daily Journal, November 16, 2010)

This time, the jury was able to come to a decision.

Manteno woman found guilty of aggravated DUI
(From the Daily Journal, November 17, 2010)

On January 7, 2011, I addressed the court on behalf of my family by reading a Victim Impact statement that I wrote. Though I'd argue it's not my best piece of writing ever, the State's Attorney said it was the most articulate Victim's Impact statement he's heard.
I would first like to thank the court for the opportunity to speak today.

Gregory Kirkton was my uncle. My family has asked me to speak on our behalf.

My Uncle Greg was a good man with a good heart.  Though he never had much money, he was the kind of man who would give away his last dime to someone who needed it, especially a friend or family member.  He loved his family very, very much. He was especially close with my mom, and he was a good parent to his stepdaughter, Amanda. He loved his wife, Donna, very much, and the months immediately following her death were difficult for him.  In the years since then, he put his life back together, leaving their home in Farmer City and eventually moving back to Kankakee to be with his family.

There's no way to express here today the pain his death caused, other than to say that all of our hearts were broken.

Without question, Barbara Hambrick was responsible for my Uncle Greg's death.

The way my uncle has been treated by Barbara Hambrick and her representatives since the time of his death only caused more pain for my family, making their healing that much more difficult.

My family was deeply concerned for Barb after the accident. She was seriously injured, and we were concerned for her -- not just for her injuries but for the loss of her friend, my uncle, who was a kind presence in the daily life of Barb and her kids. We cared about her wellbeing and her recovery.  This is who we are.  Understanding that she was driving and caused the accident, we felt sorry for her nonetheless.

Our feelings changed when her story about the accident changed.

We heard in the week after the accident that Barb claimed she hadn't been driving, that Greg was driving and caused the accident. The evidence showed this was untrue; Barb had bruising caused by the driver's-side seatbelt.
Hearing this was unsettling, but nothing was more horrific than the news that my uncle, after being thrown from the automobile, laid on the ground for more than forty minutes before the police were called to the scene of the accident.  We were shocked by the thought of my uncle lying on the ground for all that time, suffering in unspeakable pain.  Though we were eventually comforted with the news that he died instantly, we will never heal from the reckless cruelty of Barb and her family waiting to call 911.
We could have eventually forgiven Barb for causing the accident that resulted in my uncle's death. We could never forgive her for her delay in calling the police. Or for blaming the accident on my Uncle Greg.

Over the course of the legal proceedings, we heard a number of explanations about how my uncle caused the accident, none of which we actually believed.  My uncle wasn't suicidal; he was excited about having just had a great job interview, and he was anxious for the job offer.

When the jury found Barbara Hambrick guilty on both counts of aggravated DUI, my family was relieved that the jury believed that my Uncle Greg didn't cause the accident.  Through all the lies Barb told about how the accident happened and all the blame that was placed on my uncle, we just wanted her to accept responsibility. That never happened.  My family and I are thankful that the jury found Barb responsible, since she was unwilling to take responsibility.

That being said, no one "won" on the day the verdict was delivered. Yes, we finally had the acknowledgment of Barb's responsibility by a jury of her peers, but nothing will bring my uncle back. No decision could heal our broken hearts.

I won't make a plea for any particular punishment.  My family and I trust the court to make the decisions they deem appropriate in accordance with the law.  For us, the most important decision was handed down by the jury when Barbara Hambrick was found responsible.

For those of you who saw the videotapes from Heather's Tap, I'd like to leave you with a memory of the Greg Kirkton that I loved. Greg was the eternal "big kid," and when he lived with my family when I was young, he had my brother and me convinced he'd worked in the circus. He would show us his acrobatics by tossing us into the air on afternoons that were filled with laughter and awe. That is the Uncle Greg I remember.
Delivery of the sentence will be next Friday, January 14, 2011, at 1:30.

1 comment:

Amanda said...

Hugs to you and your entire family. Your Victims Impact Statement was tremendous, and I know that took a LOT of strength to read that in court. Hang in there! xoxo