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Comfort in tragic times

Tue., Oct. 14, 2008

Sacred Heart room honors Gabby, gives families haven

A distracted, suspended driver killed 22-month-old Gabby Autry before she could make her mark on the world.

Michael Q. Beckley’s guilty plea and prison sentence Monday allowed the girl’s parents to talk about the legacy they plan to leave in her name.

Gabby’s Place – a large room where families can gather at Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital as they cope with the tragedy of a dying child – will be “her mark, her memorial,” said the girl’s mother, Belle Autry.

She and her husband, Steve Autry, have been working behind the scenes raising money, but the Colbert couple couldn’t talk about the project until the man who stole their daughter’s life was sentenced. Beckley, 35, slammed into the Autrys’ car on May 23, 2007, going 55 mph while talking on his cell phone. Belle Autry was stopped at a red light on Day-Mount Spokane Road.

A Spokane County Superior Court judge sentenced Beckley to more than nine years in prison for vehicular homicide.

Construction began on Gabby’s Place shortly after Beckley was escorted back to his jail cell in handcuffs. On his way, the weeping father of four passed Gabby Autry’s parents, grandparents, aunt and uncle, all of whom testified in court moments earlier about the gaping hole he’d left in their lives but stopped short of harsh, judgmental words.

The Autrys are glad the sentencing is over and say they’re ready to move on. Their faces brightened as they talked about Gabby’s Place and how it could help distraught families in a time of need.

“We totally inundated the staff with our family when we were there,” Belle Autry said.

The family waiting room in Sacred Heart’s pediatric intensive care unit is tiny. Another woman there for her sick child at the same time as the Autrys had to sit in the hall to nurse her infant. “We saw a need, and we wanted to do something about it,” Belle Autry said.

About $29,000 in private donations has been raised so far for Gabby’s Place. The goal is just less than $50,000.

The money is being used to convert two rooms on the third floor into an extra-large “comfort” room where the family and the ailing child can be together.

An architect’s rendering shows a room decorated in tans, cool blues and pale greens. It will have a bathroom, a hide-a-bed couch, small refrigerator and maybe a microwave, Steve Autry said.

In the event there’s more than one patient, the couch can be replaced with a second hospital bed.

The hospital already has comfort care rooms in other units, such as the cancer patient and premature births areas.

“As a medical center, this was something we were working toward,” said Ginger Carter, director of development for the Sacred Heart Children’s Foundation. “So when they came to us, we were thrilled.”

Gabby’s Place will be done before the end of December, Carter said. Inside the room there will be a tribute to Gabriella “Gabby” Simone Autry, including a picture of her.

“They are absolutely amazing,” Carter said of the Autrys, who also donated their daughter’s organs in the dark hours after her death. “They just want to be part of a greater thing out of their tragedy.”

Contact Jody Lawrence-Turner at (509) 459-5593 or

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