After The Crash One Year After A Drunken Driver Killed Her Daughter, Elana Marshall Still Struggles To Make Sense Of Her Loss
Elana Marshall awoke one dark night to a warm wind blowing through her North Side apartment. It was 3 a.m. All the doors and windows were shut. A dim light appeared to glow from the living room.
Marshall sensed the presence of her 14-year-old daughter, Julie Allen. Marshall picked up a pen, and words seemed to flow from Julie. The writing turned into a poem that ended, “I truly am an angel in the universe.”
Today, Marshall will observe the first anniversary of Julie’s death in what was one of Spokane’s most horrific and highly publicized car crashes. Her gray-green eyes hollow and grief-stricken, Marshall now speaks to high school students about the dangers of drunken driving. She concludes each talk with that poem.
The presentations begin with video news footage of the crash. James B. Barstad, since convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to 50 years in prison, drove his red-and-white pickup at least 50 mph through a red light at Mission and Hamilton on May 25, 1996, killing two people and injuring five.
It had been a hot, sunny Saturday in May. Marshall, a former counselor, spent the day with Julie and her son, Jason Allen. The children lived with their father, Mike Allen, and his wife, Charlene.
Marshall and Julie shopped at NorthTown that day, playing miniature golf in the arcade at Bumpers. They posed for goofy pictures in an arcade photo machine and looked at a blue Indian gauze skirt with a matching blouse Julie liked. Julie would be buried in a similar outfit.
At 14, Julie stood tall, 5-foot-9, with a blondish-brown bob and blue eyes. Her smile was beautiful, but she also was racked by adolescent confusion and rebellion.
That weekend Julie and Marshall argued. Marshall remembers tension over Julie’s upcoming move to Topeka, Kan., where she and Jason would live with their father and stepmother.
Marshall remembers telling Julie, “If I had all the power in the world, I would have you stay.” The custody settlement wouldn’t allow it.
The three ate a spaghetti dinner at Marshall’s apartment on West Dalton. Julie made the dessert, a potato fluff pancake.
At 7:30 p.m. Julie rushed her mother and brother into the car. Julie was always late, but that night she was in a hurry.
It was time for the children to return to their father’s house in the Spokane Valley. Julie climbed into the back seat and huddled near the door on the left side; Jason sat up front.
Marshall debated taking a different route than usual. “No, Mom, go the way we always go. We’re going to be late,” Julie insisted.
So Marshall drove her red 1986 Ford LTD south down Division and took a left on North Foothills Drive. She remembers that as she drove, she tried to resolve the conflict with her daughter, telling Julie she loved her.
Marshall turned right on Hamilton. A few blocks later at Mission, the light was red. She stopped. When the light turned green, she drove into the intersection. “It’s OK, Mom. I love you,” Marshall remembers Julie saying.
Then Barstad’s truck thundered into the driver’s side of her car. The truck became airborne, according to witnesses. It crashed into Karen Sederholm’s silver Honda Accord and damaged two more cars.
Michelle Haun-Hood, a hospital assistant vice president with 15 years experience as a trauma nurse, just happened to be attending a barbecue at her sister’s home a half block away. From that distance the crash sounded like an explosion, and Haun-Hood ran down to the intersection.
At least 100 onlookers stood on the sidewalks, many screaming. The crash scene reeked of gasoline, blood … and fear.
“It smelled like people’s desperation kind of leaking out,” said Haun-Hood. “It was so palpable you could put your finger on it.”
When Haun-Hood checked Marshall and Julie, neither was breathing. Marshall believes she died in those moments. Haun-Hood opened their airways. But Julie was stretched across the back seat, surrounded by broken glass and blood. The nurse could barely reach her.
Onlookers urged her to help Sederholm, but the nurse knew it was too late.
Paramedics performed CPR on Julie, but she was pronounced dead at the hospital. Marshall arrived at Deaconess with a severe concussion, her hips and pelvis shattered, ribs and collarbone broken, and both lungs punctured.
When she awoke, Marshall immediately asked about her children. Jason had been taken to Sacred Heart with a broken clavicle and a head injury. A nurse gently told her about Julie’s death.
“No, you’re joking,” Marshall responded angrily. “Bring me Julie.”
Five days later, still in critical care, Marshall insisted on visiting her daughter’s body at Hazen & Jaeger Funeral Home.
Nurses gave her extra painkillers intravenously for the ambulance ride, then lowered the dose as they neared the funeral home. She was wheeled in on a stretcher and wound up lying, one last time, next to Julie.
Julie appeared to be sleeping peacefully, and Marshall felt as if she’d been transported back five years, when she would lie beside her daughter at bedtime, reading stories and rubbing Julie’s back.
When it was time to say goodbye, Marshall said, “I will always love you, Julie. I know you’re not gone.”
At the funeral home, Marshall told a television reporter she felt fortunate to be alive. But back at the hospital, nights were bad.
She would call into the darkness for Julie.
“Just come back to me so I can go with you,” she would say.
Marshall knew Julie wouldn’t want her to die, and neither did she.
“I have so much work left on this Earth,” Marshall says.
Marshall spent three weeks at Deaconess and another three and a half at St. Joseph Care Center. It would be a full six months before she could return to work at Inland Elderly Care, where she specialized in helping Alzheimer’s clients.
Marshall attended Barstad’s trial. He became the first person in Washington state to be convicted of first-degree murder after a car wreck.
Marshall fumed that Barstad, who had two prior drunken-driving arrests in Spokane and a drug arrest in Montana, should have been stopped sooner.
Still, she says, “Someday I will forgive James Barstad. One day I know I will.”
This spring Marshall agreed to speak at Sober Roadways’ drunken-driving presentations. Sober Roadways, a non-profit agency, is sponsored by medical workers who pull broken people out of wrecks and put them back together again.
During her presentation Tuesday at Harrington High School, Marshall spoke succinctly, with restrained emotion. She showed slides of Julie - as a blond, blue-eyed baby; a gleeful 4-year-old unwrapping a pink, plastic My Little Pony on her birthday; an awestruck 7-year-old, clutching a glowing sparkler on the Fourth of July.
“I always thought my daughter and I would have a lifetime together,” Marshall said, her red curls draped down her back.
Afterward, she sagged into a car seat, her eyes vacant and her voice tired. The morning had been draining. And as the anniversary of Julie’s death approached, Marshall was suffering from sorrowful memories, flashbacks and nightmares.
She wore a necklace - a rose quartz heart with a silver cherub perched on top - a gift from her best friend, Patti Johnston.
“There’s a piece of her gone that’s not ever going to be the same again,” Johnston says.
Marshall quit her job earlier this month, feeling burned out and emotionally stressed.
During the day, Marshall, 39, carries herself stiffly. She appears fragile, still mending.
Her injuries have healed, but her shattered bones have been irrevocably changed. She suffers sporadic memory loss, headaches and pain in her hips.
At night Marshall endures the same recurring nightmare. In it she searches for Julie and can’t find her.
She sees Julie’s image in the distance and chases after her. Marshall remains in the darkness, but light surrounds her daughter. Julie laughs and heads up into the sky.
Marshall is always left alone in despair. Night after night, she awakes, crying and terrified.
“I feel I’m still hanging on, thinking I can still bring her back,” Marshall says. “I’m often thinking, ‘I know there is a way. I’ll wake up tomorrow and she’ll be there in the rocking chair and playing her Gameboy.”’
This weekend, Marshall plans to gather up the newspaper clippings from the crash and the trial, which she’s stuffed into Julie’s photograph albums. She wants to take them to the Spokane River and, in a small ceremony, burn them. She will also visit Julie’s grave.
Marshall knows she has been stuck in her grief, still trying to hang on to her daughter. Other grieving parents, as well as bereavement experts, say the process of integrating such a trauma is lifelong.
In Topeka, Kan., where Jason lives with the Allen family, sorrow over Julie’s death also continues one year later.
“A year,” says Michelle Haun-Hood, who has observed the mourning of her patients, “is nothing.”
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