March 6 started out pretty much like any other day. Work was busy. I got off a little late, went home, got in the shower, and when I got out, my son Marshal told me that Jadean, my 15-year-old daughter, had been home. She’d dropped off her schoolbooks and left again. I asked Marshal if she had taken my work phone with her. I gave her the phone every day after work so that I could keep in contact with her. He didn’t know, so I tried calling the phone, and it rang in the house. She hadn’t taken it with her.
I had been taking six-mile walks after work most days, and I was going out for a walk. I got ready, and as I was leaving there was a news flash on Channel 7/39 about a rollover truck accident on Pamo Road in Ramona. I could hear the sirens from the fire department a few blocks away, so I stopped at the door and looked back at the TV, at the helicopter’s view of the crash. As I stood there I had this thought, just a little thought: I wonder where Jadean is? Then I went out the door and went on my walk.
I cut the walk short and stopped to visit with Cindy and Donny. We had a few beers, and Cindy and I were laughing when the phone rang. It was my boyfriend Dave, wanting to know if I was there. Cindy said, “Yeah,” and hung up. A few minutes later Dave came screeching up the driveway. I was still laughing. I was pretty hammered, and I laughed all the way out to the truck. Then I saw Dave’s face, and I was suddenly very sober. He said, “There’s been an accident.” I looked at him and asked, “What do you mean?” Again he said, “There’s been an accident, Staci, and Jadean…” I yelled, “No, no, no. What do you mean? Where is she?” Dave said, “She didn’t make it.” I yelled at him, “You’re a liar, Dave,” and I ran back into Cindy’s, screaming. I think I was screaming. My mind was screaming. I grabbed the phone and tried to call my best friend and sister Sam. Over and over I dialed. I couldn’t seem to get my fingers to work right.
I dropped the phone and ran back outside. I got down the three porch stairs and just fell on my knees, crying. Dave came over, picked me up, put me in the truck, and drove me home. He told me a lady had showed up at the house and asked for me. When he told her that I wasn’t there, she asked if he was Jadean’s dad. He said that he was her stepdad, and she asked him to please step outside, away from Marshal. The lady was from the medical examiner’s office. She told Dave that there had been an accident. At 3:45 p.m. Jadean had been pronounced dead. She told him that if we had any questions to feel free to call her, and she left her card.
When I got home, Marshal was crying. The card was sitting on my bed. I picked it up and stared at it for what seemed like forever. I took a deep breath and called the number. I said, “My name’s Staci Thrasher.” The medical examiner said, “Oh! Ms. Thrasher, I’m so sorry.” I asked, “Are you sure it’s Jadean? How are you sure it’s Jadean?” She said, “The people who were in the accident with her identified the body.” I said, “Who was she with?” The medical examiner said that the people she was with were Doug Garcia and Shelby Graham. “When can I see my baby?” I asked. She told me there had to be an autopsy to determine the exact cause of death, and then they could release her body to me.
As I hung up I started screaming again at the top of my lungs, “No, no,” again and again. The neighbors, Margaret and Rails, came down. They asked if everything was okay. Dave told them, “No, nothing is okay. Jadean was killed in a car accident. Staci doesn’t want to see anybody right now or talk to anybody.” But Margaret came in anyway and gave me a hug and told me how sorry she was.
I started calling people. I called my mom, but she wasn’t home. Then I called my other two boys, Roah and Dalton. Roah was at school down at Grossmont College. I didn’t think he’d answer, but I figured that if he saw I’d called 100 times, it would make him call me back quicker. Dalton lived with his dad up in Washington State. I called all the numbers I had for them, but nobody was answering. I left a bunch of messages everywhere. I tried calling Sam again, but she was out with Vic, Dave’s cousin, eating dinner. I tried calling Vic’s phone, and once again, I left a message. Sam called right back, and all I remember saying is “Sam” and “Jadean,” and she knew. She started screaming, and then Vic was telling me, “We’ll be there. We’ll be right there.”
My mom called right after Sam and Vic. I told her what had happened, and she said, crying, that they’d be right over.
We started finding out some of the details of what happened out on Pamo from the kids around town, and I knew then that that was the accident I’d seen on TV before I went on my walk. I still didn’t know who this Doug guy was. I knew Shelby. She was Jadean’s friend from school. I thought Doug might be a teenage boy I had met a couple of months earlier at the house, but I didn’t know for sure.
When Roah arrived with his friend Jae, we decided to go out to Pamo to see where it happened. Vic and Sam arrived just as we were leaving, so they joined us. By then it was pitch black, but it was unmistakable where the accident had occurred. Even out on the dark dirt road, the orange spray paint was visible. The twisted fencing and the mashed dirt embankments marked the spot. We all got out of the cars and walked over to see what we could with our flashlights. Marshal found a shirt that was his. He and Jadean used to fight over it all the time. It was just lying on the bushes. We could see papers and all kinds of debris everywhere, but we couldn’t see why it had happened.
People were calling from everywhere asking what happened and telling us how sorry they were. Food also started arriving, more food than we had space for. I got the worst headache I’ve ever had in my life, and I lay down and went to sleep.
When I woke up the next morning, I thought it was all a bad dream, and then I remembered that I don’t dream. More people were calling, but the only call I took that day was from the donor bank. Jadean and I had talked about being a donor when she got her California ID, and she told me then that if anything ever happened to her she wanted to donate anything that might help someone. We put the little pink sticker on her ID. We didn’t think it would ever be used.
We went back out to Pamo again. Dave wanted to plant a cross where he thought Jadean had died. Vic took a few pictures on his cell phone, and then I had to go. I just couldn’t be there anymore.
What Happened out on Pamo Road?
When I got home, my parents told me that Shelby, the other girl in the accident with Jadean and Doug, had called and was going to come over with her parents. We had learned a little bit more about Doug. He was not the boy I had met in my home a few months earlier. He was a grownup, a 26-year-old man, and I still couldn’t figure out what my 15-year-old daughter was doing with him out in Pamo. I was anxious to talk to Shelby to find out what had happened and why Shelby and Doug made it and Jadean didn’t.
Shelby and her parents arrived. She had a few nicks and scrapes. She told me they had gone out to Pamo to do some four-wheeling. She said, “We were just driving down the road, and when we got to where the dirt started, Jadean took off her seatbelt. I told her she should put it back on, but Jadean said, ‘I’ll be fine.’ ” A little farther down the road they went around a curve and the truck fishtailed. Shelby told Doug to slow down. He hit his brakes, and the car slid out and hit the embankment. It shot across the road into the other embankment, and the truck flipped end over end.
Shelby said, “It took a minute for me to get out of the truck. I was trapped in the back seat. Doug and I pulled Jadean out of the truck, and Jadean kept saying, ‘I can’t believe we wrecked the truck. My mom’s going to kill me. I love you guys — I can’t breathe.’ ” Shelby told her to save her breath, not to talk. Then Shelby tried to call her dad on her cell phone, but there was no service, so she had to walk out in the field. When she came back, Jadean wasn’t breathing. Shelby said she tried to give Jadean CPR, but it didn’t work. She finally reached her dad and said that she thought Jadean was dead and he needed to hurry and come.
I asked if they were out there getting high, and she said, “No, we don’t get high,” and I said, “Well, we found this letter in her schoolbooks last night. Jadean wrote that, in February, both of you went out to Pamo with Doug and Jon and did ecstasy.”
Shelby’s dad looked over at Shelby, but she didn’t say anything. I asked Shelby where Jadean’s journal was. She said she didn’t know. I asked her how they had met Doug. She said that she had met him through Jadean and that he would pick them up in his truck after school and give them rides home. Shelby’s dad said to Shelby, “I thought you said Doug was Jadean’s cousin.” Then to me, “I thought it was kind of odd at the hospital that they [Doug’s family] weren’t upset about Jadean.” Something was wrong, and I felt it. Shelby’s account of the accident left me with more questions than I had before she came.
I called the CHP. I wanted to talk to them. I wanted to know what happened. Nobody called me back. It had been about 18 hours since Jadean was killed, and nobody from any law-enforcement agency had contacted me, other than the medical examiner. The CHP called back later that day while I was gone and spoke to Roah. He told the officer, “My mom really wants to talk to you.” They said they would call back again, but they never did.
We went over to the mortuary. I needed to pick out a casket and make the arrangements for the funeral and the viewing. I remember walking in. I had never been in that place before. I had lived my entire life in Ramona and had never been in that place once. I felt sick, and I just wanted to get it over with. We were told that the coroner had to release Jadean’s body, and then they had to “get her ready.” All I wanted to know was when I could see my baby. I still had not seen her. We went into another room to look at caskets. I remember standing there looking at what my baby was going to spend all eternity in, thinking to myself: I have $12 to my name. How am I ever going to pay for this? The caskets ranged in price from $1500 to $5000. But I noticed in the corner that there was this casket-shaped cardboard box with fake wood-grain plastic covering it, almost like shelf paper. It was $100. That’s the one I picked. My mom freaked and hissed, “No, Staci,” in that way moms do. I started crying and told her, “That’s the only one I can afford.” She said, “Don’t worry about the cost. Pick out the casket, and we’ll take care of it.” I picked out a teal-blue casket, the same color as this sparkly eyeliner Jadean had loved, and then I got out of there.
Who Is This Doug Guy?
Information kept pouring in from all the kids around town about Doug. Some of it was very interesting, in a stomach-churning kind of way. I started writing bits of information down. One of the kids pulled up MySpace and showed me a picture of Doug.
The next morning Sam and I went back out to Pamo to take some pictures. We spent about an hour out there trying to figure out what had happened. When we got in the truck to leave, a car came down the road, then slowed down and stopped next to us. It was a friend of Roah’s. She said her people owned that property and that if we needed anything at all, to get a hold of her. She gave us her phone number, and we drove off.
We got about a mile up the road, to the bridge where the road turns from dirt to pavement. I saw my friend Mark’s truck, and I thought he must have been coming out to see what had happened. He got to the bridge just as we did; he had a passenger in the front who I realized was the guy from the picture on MySpace. I said to him, “What’s your name?” He didn’t say anything. Once again I said, “What’s your name?” In my peripheral vision I could see that Mark was putting two and two together. He was realizing that this guy in his car is the one that killed my daughter. Mark said, “You better tell her your fucking name right now, dude.” His passenger said, “My name’s Doug.”
I screamed, “What were you doing out here with my daughter, you murderer?” Doug said, “I wasn’t trying to murder her.” Then Sam said to Doug, “Besides murdering Jadean, did you ever do any drugs with her?” Doug said, “No, I don’t do drugs.” Sam then told him, “Well, we have a letter that we found in Jadean’s stuff saying otherwise, and you’re going to go to jail for a long time.” Doug said, “They were Jadean’s drugs.”
He never apologized or showed any remorse. He just tried to put the blame on Jadean. I was screaming at him. I don’t remember what I was screaming. I started my truck, and Mark moved his. It was all I could do not to get out of my truck and throw him off that bridge.
We got back into town and went over to pick out the plot at the Ramona Cemetery. The best area, according to the cemetery director, overlooked a chicken ranch. As we walked down there, I realized that I didn’t want to smell chickens every time I came to visit my daughter. I said, “How about down over there, under those trees?” He said that was a “less desirable” area. I said, “I think Jadean would be much happier with the undesirables. She was always friends with everybody.” I picked out a very nice spot under a tree.
Later that night a Detective Saussman from the Ramona sheriff’s office called me at home. She asked me if I had a son named Roah. I told her I did, and was there a problem with him? She told me Roah had been seen driving a black Ford Ranger (my car) in front of Doug Garcia’s house a few times and that the sheriff’s department was viewing it as stalking. I was angry! How dare this woman call me and make assumptions and accusations about anyone in my family, especially in defense of the man who killed Jadean? Roah wasn’t even in Ramona that night, and if she had asked, I would have told her that it wasn’t Roah. It was Dave. He wanted to know where Doug Garcia lived. I said to her, “Really! Stalking, huh? Are there two documented instances of harassment on file? Is there a restraining order in effect? Because, fortunately for me, I know enough of the law to know when some stupid cop is calling to use BS tactics to get her way.” Detective Saussman then told me, “I know what it’s like to lose a child. My daughter wrecked her car and died last year.” I was so angry at this point, I said, “Really, you know what it’s like to lose a child! Your child died from her own mistake. My child was seduced by a 26-year-old man, taken out to the middle of nowhere for Lord knows what, and killed. So you might know what it’s like to lose a child, but you will never have a clue as to what it’s like to have a child taken from you. When Doug Garcia has a restraining order against us, any of us, then maybe we’ll stop driving down his street.”
On March 9, family started arriving from out of state, Jadean’s dad and his wife, along with her brother Dalton, her other grandparents from Florida, my sisters and their children from Florida and Texas. At some point that day, I said to Sam, “Why hasn’t the sheriff come to talk to me?”
No Victim, No Crime
We decided to go down to the Ramona Sheriff’s Station. I wanted to know why they hadn’t come out to ask me what my 15-year-old daughter was doing with this 26-year-old man out in the middle of nowhere. So Sam and I went over to the Sheriff’s Station and asked if we could talk to Deputy Brown, not because I liked him but because I knew him. He wasn’t on duty, and the female deputy told us that we could talk to him the next day when he got back. I said, “No, I really need to talk to somebody now. My daughter was killed by this 26-year-old man out in Pamo four days ago, and I want to know why nobody’s come to talk to me about it.” She asked us to hold on while she went inside the substation to see what she could find out. We waited about 20 minutes, and then she came back and said, “Nobody’s come out to talk to you because it was determined by the CHP to be just a car accident.” I was astonished. I said, “What do you mean, just a car accident?” She said that the accident had been determined to be just that, an accident with no foul play involved. “No foul play?” I asked. “This was a 26-year-old man taking two teenage girls out to the middle of nowhere to get them high and Lord knows what else, and you say there’s no foul play? Get your sergeant now!”
We waited another 30 minutes or so for the sergeant to come out. He had salt or sugar all around his lips, and he seemed very irritated that he had been interrupted. He said, “Yes, that’s correct. We are not investigating anything. Because there is no victim, there is no crime.” I raised my voice and said, “You’re telling me that this grown man killed my daughter and he’s going to get away with all the things that he did to her?” The sergeant said, “Well, if that’s the way you want to look at it.”
I could feel myself becoming irate and sick to my stomach.
Later, some of the kids came over and told us that, three days after the accident, Doug’s mom and dad had bought him a brand-new Dodge Durango. We were still trying to find out if there was any liability insurance that would cover funeral expenses, but I couldn’t get the CHP to call me back and give me the name of the insurance carrier on Doug’s proof of insurance.
On March 10, Sam and I went down to the medical examiner’s office to pick up Jadean’s belongings. When the chaplain came into the room to see us, he handed me this little Ziploc bag that had two necklaces in it. As he slid it across the table, he said, “Here’s her property.” I looked down and asked, “What do you mean? Where’s her purse? Where’s her journal? Where are her clothes?” The chaplain explained, “We don’t usually give the clothes back, ma’am. Most of the time they’re bloody, and we don’t want to put the families through that.”
I asked him, “Did you guys do a vaginal exam?” He said, “We only do those when people die in suspicious circumstances.” I said, “How much more suspicious could the circumstances have been?” He said, “No, we did not do a vaginal exam.” He told us he was sorry for our loss and gave us some literature regarding San Diego County’s grief programs, and then we left.
As we were walking out, I realized that Jadean’s journal had to be in Doug’s truck still. I freaked out. I knew that there was so much information about Doug in that journal because Jadean was so candid in her writing. She knew I wasn’t going to go snoop through it. She always carried it with her, and the only place that it could be was in the truck.
I called the tow company in Ramona to see if they had the truck, and they told me that it had gone down to Spring Valley on an evidence hold. I called the tow company in Spring Valley and explained the situation. They said that the vehicle was on a hold in a locked evidence locker and nobody but the CHP could get to it. Then I started calling the CHP, but the Ramona office is a field office and you never get anybody live, you only get their message machine. So I left message after message about Jadean’s journal and Jadean’s purse, how I knew they were still in that truck, and that they were very important, I needed them.
At three o’clock we needed to be at the mortuary for the viewing for the family. I had not seen Jadean yet, and my stomach was tied up in knots. Dave, Sam, Dalton, Marshal, and I arrived first. I walked up to the casket and looked down at my baby, my sweet, sweet baby. My heart sank because, up until this very moment, I had held out hope that everyone was wrong, that Jadean wasn’t dead, that it was all some cruel joke, and Jadean would come walking through the door any minute being her usual bratty self. I thought I was going to be physically sick. That wasn’t my baby lying in there all swollen and cold. But it was. I started sobbing. She was such a beautiful girl. Life was so unfair. So, as I leaned down to kiss my girly-girl for the very last time, I told her that I loved her and that I missed her and that I would miss what and who she would have become every day for the rest of my life. I took that one lock of hair that I had been pushing out of her eyes since she was two and put it back in her eyes. I figured that’s where it belonged. I kissed her and walked away, and for the rest of the time I couldn’t go anywhere near that casket.
But Marshal walked up to the casket and couldn’t leave. He pulled a chair up next to Jadean so he could see her face, and he sat there for the entire four hours, crying. People came and put things inside the casket for Jadean, and he would move them aside so he could see her face. I finally had to have his grandpa go and pull him away.
The viewing was four hours long. People I had not seen in 15 years showed up: ex-bosses, old friends, people I had gone to school with, and kids. Kids! So many kids. It seemed as if every kid in Ramona was there at some point during that four hours. A woman named Donna came over to me with her daughter Bobbie. Bobbie told me that she was the ex-girlfriend of Doug Garcia. I asked her if she would be willing to talk to me later. She agreed and gave me her phone number.
The next day we all got up and got ready to go bury Jadean. When we got to the Mormon church, there were people standing outside. There wasn’t any more room inside. My family had been going to this church since they built it, when I was 11, and there were more people there than I’d ever seen there before. We went in and had a family prayer, and we went into the chapel for the service. I asked Sam to cut a lock of Jadean’s hair. Sam tried, but she was crying so hard, she couldn’t do it. My sister Shauna had to come in and do it for her.
After the service we went to the cemetery for the burial. Both the sheriff and the CHP drove past numerous times during the burial, which really bothered me. After the burial we had a family dinner at the church. A few hours later we all met up at my parents’ house and took some family pictures. You know the kind: kids, grandkids, everyone together. To this day I can’t look at those photographs.
Three days after the funeral, Officer Matthews from the CHP showed up at my house. He had Jadean’s purse, but it was empty. Alarms started going off in my head. Not one ink pen was in it. That girl lived to write and draw, and there was not even one ink pen in her purse. I asked hopefully, “Did you find her journal?” He told me, “No, Staci, the journal wasn’t there, but he would have had plenty of time to hide anything out there if he had wanted to.” I processed what Officer Matthews had said, and then I asked him, “What happened?”
The Highway Patrol’s Version of What Happened
Officer Matthews said: “I got the call at approximately 15:45 and headed out towards Pamo. My partner was following in another patrol car behind me. We were going about 40 miles an hour when we got to where the road turns from pavement to dirt. I radioed back to my partner that the road was so washboarded that we needed to slow down. When we got out there, Mr. Garcia was sitting on the side of the road and the other girl was over by your daughter. I immediately got out and went over to check on your daughter. I determined at that time that she was dead.” He then said, “I started to assess the situation, and as a father I thought, what is this grown man doing out here with these young girls? Then, as a Highway Patrol officer, I thought, does that have anything to do with this accident? I went over and spoke with Mr. Garcia to find out what had happened. Mr. Garcia told me they had been driving out to go on the trails, and when he came around the corner, the back end of the truck fishtailed, causing him to lose control and hit the embankment, which shot him across the dirt road into the embankment on the other side, and the truck flipped end over end numerous times.” Officer Matthews then told me that he administered standard field sobriety tests to Mr. Garcia, which he passed.
I asked him, “Did you take blood?” Officer Matthews again said, “I administered standard field sobriety tests, which Mr. Garcia passed.” I asked, “What do you mean, ‘field sobriety tests’? Are you talking about the walk-a-straight-line, touch-your-fingers-to-your-nose-type test? Because I was hammered when Dave came to get me, and all he had to do was tell me there had been an accident and I was stone cold sober. Don’t you think maybe the adrenaline of flipping his truck four times and killing somebody sobered him up?” Officer Matthews said, “I followed the letter of the law.” He then told me, “They might have tested him at the hospital, Staci, but I did not order any blood test to be taken. I couldn’t. He passed the field sobriety tests.” I took Jadean’s purse, thanked him. And walked into the house, crying.
Why Is the Victim’s Family Having Trouble with the Sheriff?
I was having a very hard time writing Jadean’s obituary. Almost three weeks had gone by since she’d died, and all that came to mind when I tried to write was “How do you sum up someone you love so much in four paragraphs?” The day I finally finished it, Marshal went back to school. The school nurse, Gloria, whom I’d known since I was 12, called me at about 11:00 a.m. Marshal was having chest pains. I went and picked him up and took him to our doctor. He said Marshal had a sprained diaphragm from crying so much and that he needed to rest.
Almost as soon as we got home, the sheriff showed up at my house. When they got to my door, I asked the deputy, “Did you guys finally realize there actually was a victim?” He just looked at me. They were there to serve Dave, Roah, Dalton, and me with restraining orders. I read through the restraining order that accused us of everything from drug-dealing to terrorist threats. When I finally reached the end, I realized that the restraining order was filed because Dalton had stood across the street from Jadean’s old school and threatened to beat up a boy that had said Jadean kind of deserved to die.
The day after that, Roah came up to show off his new car. He told me that when he got up to Ramona he turned onto Main Street and headed toward my house. About one block from my street, he passed a Ramona sheriff’s deputy going the opposite way. The deputy recognized Roah and immediately flipped a U-turn. Roah said he knew the deputy was coming after him, so he pulled into the Orchard’s parking lot and parked. The deputy pulled in behind him, opened his patrol car door, pulled out his service revolver, and ordered Roah and his passenger to put their hands out the window. Roah and Jae complied. What else could they do? Roah asked why he was being pulled over at gunpoint. Another Ramona deputy and two CHP officers showed up. The deputy put his gun away. They pulled Roah and Jae out of the car and put them on the curb while all four of them went through Roah’s car for about a half hour, even though Roah provided them with his valid driver’s license, valid vehicle registration, and proof of insurance. After they were all finished violating my son’s rights, they gave him a fix-it ticket for a little blue license-plate light.
I filed my response to the restraining orders, and on March 29, the day before Jadean’s 16th birthday, we went to court. It was a very enlightening court visit. We found out that the boy Dalton had threatened did say that Jadean kind of deserved to die, and the reason he had said it was because his mom had told him that. The judge was pretty much appalled that we were there just three weeks after Jadean had died and that the boy had said what he did. He scolded the boy’s mother and said, “I’m not going to put this on this boy’s record, not when your son was in the wrong, but I am going to ask Dalton if he can just let this sleeping dog lie.” Although Dalton didn’t want to, he knew it would be for the best, and he shook the judge’s hand and agreed to let it go.
The next day would have been Jadean’s 16th birthday. The kids came over, and they all had cake and then went over to the cemetery to put Styrofoam cups in the fence spelling out “Happy Birthday.” I couldn’t even come out of the bathroom. I wanted to pretend that it wasn’t happening. I didn’t eat cake; I didn’t go to the cemetery. I couldn’t. I’d been there every day since we’d buried Jadean, and I just couldn’t make myself go on her birthday. In fact, I still can’t go. I haven’t been there even once since the day before she would have turned 16. Later that night, to celebrate her birthday, Sam, Dave, and I loaded up all Jadean’s friends and took them to The Rocky Horror Picture Show because that was what Jadean had wanted to do.
A Case Builds against Doug Garcia
On April 12, 2007, Assistant District Attorney Polly Shamoon contacted me and told me that they were building a case against Doug, but unfortunately, all the evidence indicated he wasn’t under the influence at the time of the accident. Nobody had taken any blood, so the most they could charge him with was involuntary manslaughter, without drugs or alcohol involved. The most he could get was four years, and he would probably get the low term, which is one year in county jail. I was amazed. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” I said. I told her about all the young girls in town who had come forward and said that they had gone out to Pamo with Doug at different times and that they were willing to testify.
She said she would need their parents’ permission before she could speak to any of them. The next day Dave and I met with Polly and Andrea Castaneda, the assistant DA who would actually be trying the case. I had the names and phone numbers of four girls who had agreed to talk to them. They were willing to have their parents know what was going on.
[Editor’s note: In court documents surrounding this case, Deputy District Attorney Carlos Campbell, who eventually took over the case, wrote that he intended “to offer evidence that (Garcia) has had unlawful sexual intercourse with several minors, has engaged in lewd and lascivious conduct with a minor under the age of 18, and that he furnished several minors with ecstasy and other illegal drugs.… The people are prepared to call live witnesses and provide photographic evidence to substantiate the claim.”]
In April, Shelby called a local radio station, 92.1, during a help segment. She talked about the accident, but some of the details were different from what she’d told me.
On April 20, I spoke with my lawyer, Joe Rego, who told me that Doug had no insurance. The policy number he had given the CHP officer at the scene was false. Joe said he was going to dig a little deeper and see what was really going on.
On April 23, I received a phone call from Andrea Castaneda, who told me that Doug had been arrested on April 21 and that his parents had paid the $100,000 bail bond in cash.
On April 25, a friend of mine called me from Arizona and told me that Doug was out there with his new 16-year-old girlfriend. I got the phone number for the mom of the 16-year-old in Arizona. I called her and gave her a summary of what had happened with Doug and my daughter. Her response was that her daughter was going to do what she wanted to do and there was nothing she could do to stop her.
I called Andrea Castaneda to let her know that Doug had left the state and was in Arizona. She called the bond holder and was told that there were no restrictions on his bail. He could travel to and from wherever he wanted to travel.
On May 11, Doug was supposed to be arraigned. I was there. Doug was not. The arraignment was postponed until May 16.
May 16, I was there. Doug was not. I asked Andrea Castaneda why he wasn’t in court. She said he had hired his own lawyer. He was not using a public defender. Because the lawyer had just been retained, he needed time to prepare. So arraignment was moved to May 30. I was very angry that Doug was able to come and go as he pleased, and I told Andrea this. She promised me she would address it at the arraignment on the 30th.
May 21, Joe Rego’s office got a call regarding the subpoena for Doug’s insurance company. They had no record of the policy number given to the CHP officer at the scene. They did, however, have a claim opened on March 6 with a different policy number filed under the name Doug Allen Garcia. However, the finance company that held the contract on the truck had, upon the cancellation of Doug’s insurance policy for nonpayment, picked up the insurance for property only. So the truck was covered, but there was no liability coverage, which is required in California. And because the DMV computer showed that there was insurance on his truck, he could legally be on the road. So he walked away from the accident free and clear, his parents bought him a brand-new truck, and my parents had to loan me money to pay $17,000 in funeral costs.
On May 30, 2007, we had a readiness hearing. The DA requested that Doug be required to stay in San Diego County. Judge DeAnn Salcido denied that request.
Friday, July 13, I was informed that a new deputy DA, Carlos Campbell, would be trying the case. Carlos said that they were continuing the case until the end of August. I asked if anyone had contacted the girls who were willing to testify. He said that, because of the shooting at the K-Mart in Ramona, the sheriff’s department was really busy with that murder investigation.
We were supposed to have court August 28, and on the 27th I called Carlos Campbell. He told me he was not sure if Doug would do any time. The DA’s office was not sure they could meet their burden of proof. Shelby had come in and given them another statement, and each time she gave a statement, it was inconsistent with all the others. This meant she was not a credible witness.
Shelby had admitted to a few of Jadean’s friends that they were smoking pot on the way out there and that they were on their way out there to do ecstasy, but she would not give this information to the DA or the sheriff because her parents would find out and she would have to go to rehab.
We were supposed to have court again on October 16. I called on the 15th, and Carlos Campbell told me that Doug’s lawyer had an expert witness who would attest to the fact that the tie rod on the vehicle had broken, thus causing the accident, and that they needed another continuance. The new court date was set for November 14.
On November 13, I called Carlos to confirm that the court date was the 14th. Carlos said he was sorry, but the case had been continued to November 21, and Doug was going to plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter with no gross negligence. The maximum sentence was 365 days, but if he got the full 365 days, they could not keep him on probation for a term of five years. If they asked for 11 months, he would do half time with five years’ probation. I said, “So he’ll do five and a half months?” But Carlos said, “No, Staci, we’re not asking for 11 months. We’re asking for 180 days and five years’ probation.” I said, “What do you mean, 180 days?” Carlos told me, “Judge DeAnn Salcido will be handling the case, and she has already given us her presumptive sentence. It’s 30 days.” I yelled, “Thirty days! That means he’ll do 11 days with the half time and sheriff’s 4-day kickback. You’re telling me my daughter’s life is worth 11 days?” He said, “We’re lucky to be getting that. The judge told me that in cases like this, she usually doesn’t give any time.”
I know this was not Carlos’s fault. He has tried harder than anybody else has tried in this case. But it didn’t stop me from yelling. All he could say was, “I’m so sorry, Staci. I’m so sorry.”
So, on November 21, my 40th birthday, we went to the El Cajon courthouse and listened to Doug Allen Garcia plead guilty in front of Judge DeAnn Salcido to involuntary manslaughter without gross negligence. His lawyer requested sentencing for after the holidays. She granted that. Then Judge Salcido said, “I understand that the victim’s family are in the courtroom.” We all kind of nodded, and she asked us to come up front. She then looked at all of us and said, “I can’t even imagine how hard this must be for all of you at this time of the year, with the holidays, but please don’t make it any worse by doing something that you will regret.”
I’m looking at this woman, thinking, how could it get any worse? My daughter’s dead, and the person who is supposed to vindicate her says her life is worth 11 days. Now she thinks I need a lecture? So I looked at her, and I rolled my eyes, and I asked her, with more contempt in my voice and my heart than I’d ever had in my life, “Are we through here?” She looked as if I had slapped her, as if I had offended her. She said, “Yes. Yes, we are.” As I turned on my heel, I said, “Good, because I don’t think I could stand one more second of this crap,” and I walked out of her courtroom.
We made it through the holidays, sort of. We all put on our happy faces and went through all the motions, but it just wasn’t the same. It couldn’t be. Jadean is missed so much!
On January 4, 2008, I spoke with Carlos Campbell. The first thing he said to me was “I am so sorry, Staci, for what the judge said to you guys in court. She was out of line. She had no right to say any of those things to you.” I thanked Carlos and told him he didn’t need to apologize for her. He told me, “Well, somebody needs to.” We talked for a few more minutes. He told me, “You need to gather up all the bills from the funeral and give me copies for the restitution hearing. Hopefully the court will hold him responsible financially.” I told him I doubted it.
I Had a Plan
Around January 12, I started feeling very anxious, as if the world were closing in around me. I felt that I could not live with myself if I let Doug get away with what he had done, without at least trying everything I could think of to get the court to recognize that this was not just an accident and that the proposed 30-day sentence was not enough.
I decided that posting fliers was the way to go. So I printed up about 500 fliers stating my opinion of Doug and what he had done. Then on Friday, January 25, Sam, my new guy Dale, and I went walking up and down the streets of Ramona posting fliers everywhere, asking, begging, pleading with my community for their help.
The next morning Sam had to go with her boss to Ramona. She had been telling her boss about the fliers and wanted to show her how many we had posted. So they drove down Main Street. Sam called me, freaking out. “Every last one of them is gone, Staci, every last one!” I was shocked; we must have posted 350 of those fliers.
Sentencing was getting increasingly close, and the only idea I’d had, in my opinion, had failed. I still had some of the fliers left, so Sam and I decided on Saturday to go out to the grocery stores and the Ramona K-Mart and hand them out to people in our community personally. The community responded well; every person we handed a flier to wanted to know more.
After we passed out those remaining fliers, I realized that they were not very informative. So on Sunday, January 27, I went to my mom’s and sat down and drafted up another flier, this time being much more specific about what I said and what I needed from the community. When I was finished I started calling Jadean’s friends. I had a plan.
I had lived in Ramona almost all my life, and one of the things that bothered me about that town was the fact that from 3:00 p.m. until about 6:30 p.m., Hwy 67, the main way into town, was always a parking lot. I figured that if we went out to the west end of town and held up signs and passed out the fliers to everyone who was stuck in traffic, people couldn’t ignore us.
Monday, January 28, we woke up to rain. I was so bummed, but Sam and I made the posters, fully intending to go hold signs and pass out fliers, rain or shine. The rain turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The fires in October had pretty much destroyed Hwy 78, one of the only other ways into Ramona, and it just so happened that on that day it rained enough to create mudslides on the 78, thus closing it down. Virtually everyone that lived in Ramona and had to commute would have to enter through Hwy 67.
We all met at my house at around 2:30 p.m., loaded up, and headed out. By the time we got to the west end of town, the rain had stopped and the sun was shining through the clouds. Everyone got out and grabbed a sign and got busy informing Ramonians about “the accident” and Judge Salcido’s proposed 30-day sentence. Nine out of ten cars wanted to know what we were talking about; they opened their windows and gladly accepted the fliers we were handing out.
I had obtained Judge Salcido’s courtroom phone number, and I put it on the fliers. I encouraged all who read the flier and were as outraged by the proposed 30-day sentence as we were to call that number and let the judge know just how outraged they were. I had also called, emailed, and faxed every news station, newspaper, and radio station in San Diego County with a copy of the flier and a tip about what was going on in Ramona. Channel 10 reporter Rhett Lawrence showed up. We started talking; he found a lot of it unbelievable. I told him he should join the club. I also told him to come to court if he didn’t believe me. He could talk to some of those underage girls; they would be there. It sparked enough of his interest for him to show up at court on Wednesday. It sparked a lot of interest in Ramona as well. Calls started pouring in, people asking us what they could do to help. We told all of them, “Call Judge Salcido and tell her what you think of her proposed sentence, or better yet, come to court.”
A Small Victory
So on Wednesday, January 30, we all once again loaded up and went down to the El Cajon courthouse. When we got there, we all had the signs we’d made and fliers, which the kids started passing out to people going into the courthouse. There was a group of about 50 of us, plus Rhett Lawrence with his news camera, and another photographer for the Ramona Sentinel. A sheriff’s deputy came out and told us that we had to move off of courthouse property. We could be in the parking lot, but not on the actual court complex. We moved, and the two reporters spoke with some of the young girls who’d said that Doug had had relations with them. About ten minutes before court, we all filed into the courthouse. When we got to Judge Salcido’s courtroom, the bailiff came out and gave us a five-minute speech about how we were going to act in her courtroom and then made all the kids take off the ribbons they’d made that said “Justice for Jadean” and the shirts they’d made saying “30 days is not enough.”
They finally let us into the courtroom, where Doug was already sitting at the defendant’s table. His parents and grandparents were in the audience. The reporters set up the cameras, and then Judge Salcido took the bench. I was sitting there tied up in knots. Judge Salcido started talking. She said that she had read over the probation report and was concerned about some of the things in it; therefore, she was not prepared to move forward and sentence Doug to the 30 days she had originally offered. She told Doug that her new offer was 180–240 days (six–eight months; with half time that would be three–four months of actual time spent in jail), or he could withdraw the guilty plea and proceed with a trial. I almost stopped breathing. If Doug chose to withdraw his plea and move forward with a trial, it would give the sheriff more time to investigate him and hopefully add additional charges, bumping him up from his lowly misdemeanor criminal status to felon.
Doug did choose to withdraw his plea. Judge Salcido added some restrictions on the conditions of his bail. She ordered Doug to be at all of the court proceedings (something misdemeanor offenders are normally exempt from), and she also ordered that Doug not be in the presence of anyone under the age of 18 without their parents being present. We all sat there trying not to yell, whoop, and holler. After court was over, Doug was handcuffed and escorted out of the courthouse.
Later that night, we all sat watching the TV while Rhett Lawrence told the whole county about how Doug had taken the two girls out to a remote area of Ramona and “accidentally” killed Jadean and about my family’s ensuing fight to see justice served. He showed Judge Salcido ordering Doug not to be in the presence of anyone under the age of 18. Oh, what a happy day! It was a victory! A very small victory, but a victory nonetheless.
Now we all had to wait for the next court date on March 5, 2008, almost a year to the day since Doug had killed Jadean.
Sam and I figured we’d better start calling the sheriff’s department to get them to hurry up with their investigation of Doug. Thursday, January 31, I called the Ramona Sheriff’s Office and asked for Detective Wells. I was transferred to her voice mail. I called again Friday, February 1; once again I left a message asking her to call me back. Tuesday, February 5, Sam and I personally went into the Ramona substation and asked to speak with Detective Wells. The receptionist there told us that Detective Wells may or may not be on vacation, she was unsure. When we asked if she could find out, she told us no, but we could leave a message for the detective. We did and left. I called the detective and left messages for her on February 8, 13, 22, and 28, and then again on March 3. To this day she hasn’t called me back. Why does the Ramona Sheriff’s Department not want to investigate this man?
Doug Garcia Files Another Restraining Order against the Thrashers
On Tuesday, March 4, my lawyer’s office called. They had just received a courtesy copy of a restraining order that my son Roah, my ex Dave, and I were being served with from Doug. Doug alleged that Roah, Dave, and I had threatened him. That I had personally called him eight hours after the “accident” and told him, “How dare you kill my daughter, I’m going to get you!” Doug also alleged that Roah and some of his friends chased him as he was driving out to his friend’s house a few days after the “accident.” The best part was Doug accusing me of threatening him by passing out the fliers. In his complaint, Doug stated that because I had passed out those filers, every time he came to Ramona he couldn’t sleep, and he felt that he might not make it back to Arizona to his new wife when he left town. And every time he saw someone from my family he felt very uncomfortable. Imagine that!
My lawyer and I figured it was some ploy he was using for court the next day. We thought he would have me served at court and then have me removed from the courtroom because I would be in violation of the temporary 100-yard stay-away order.
On Wednesday, March 5, Sam and I went to the courthouse fully expecting the sheriff to serve me. Instead, the sheriff, who never gave me a second glance, escorted us into and out of the courtroom.
Court went off without a hitch, all the trial dates were set, and we were coming back on April 22. Judge Salcido also reminded Doug of her order to stay away from underage children unless their parents were present.
After court I spoke with Carlos Campbell. He had told me, in an earlier conversation we’d had, that Detective Wells had said that one girl who had given them a statement regarding her sexual encounters with Doug no longer wanted to testify. I talked with the girl by phone. She told me that a detective had come to talk to her and that she’d told the detective everything she and Doug had done. The detective said that she was retiring but that the DA’s office would be contacting her soon. I asked if anybody else from the sheriff’s department or the DA’s office had contacted her. She said no. The one detective was the only person she had ever talked to regarding Doug. Was she still willing to talk to the DA and to possibly testify against Doug? Absolutely, she said. I asked if her parents knew about any of this, because they would have to know if it ever made it as far as court. She said she’d told her parents right after the detective came over and talked to her. I told her someone would be contacting her soon, and we hung up. I recounted this entire conversation to Carlos as he sat there, amazed. All he could say was “You’re kidding me, right, Staci?” I asked him to find out what was really going on, why the sheriff was refusing to investigate this man and had even gone so far as lying to Carlos about it.
I then asked Carlos why he couldn’t talk to the girls and amend Doug’s charges, since the sheriff was not going to do it. He explained that that just isn’t the way it works, that his hands were pretty much tied. In order for the DA to pursue charges against anyone, the sheriff’s department has to investigate, gather evidence, and file charges. Then the DA can do something, but not until then.
The next day, Thursday, March 6, the first anniversary of Jadean’s death, I had to get up early and take Sam to work. When I got back, Dalton told me that a guy was at the house to serve me the restraining order but that he’d left and left his phone number. It made no sense to me that a process server was coming to my house to serve me. Doug had asked for free service from the sheriff’s office, and it had been granted. So why would he pay a process server to come? Then it dawned on me! He’d paid a process server so that he could have me served on the anniversary of her death. Nice. I called the process server and asked if he could come back, and he told me he’d be there in about 15 minutes. When he got to my door, he shook my hand and told me how sorry he was for my loss and handed me the restraining order. As I was looking through it, I asked if they had specifically asked him to serve me today. He told me yes, they had indeed asked him to serve me on Thursday the 6th.
I responded to Doug’s allegations and sat and waited for court on March 13. That day I met my lawyer at the courthouse. Doug wasn’t there. His lawyers were. Funny thing how he can afford to pay a lawyer but filed a fee waiver with the court so that he wouldn’t have to pay the 180-some dollars to file the restraining order. His lawyers started by saying that because I had passed out fliers stating that Doug had murdered (in my opinion) Jadean, I had willingly and knowingly made defamatory statements, thus causing him great mental and emotional distress. My lawyer stood up and said that I was well within my rights under the First Amendment, that I had passed out my fliers to enlist support and help from my community, not to distress Doug. His lawyers argued that I knew Doug wasn’t a murderer and that this was proved by statements I’d made on my fliers. My lawyer argued that what was on those fliers was my opinion, that Doug was indeed a murderer in my eyes, and once again, that I was well within my First Amendment rights in passing out the fliers. The judge seemed to agree, because he denied Doug’s request for the restraining order.
I decided to write this story because I’m angry. Angry that my baby’s gone, angry that my family is irreparably broken, angry at the way things were handled from the very beginning, angry that nobody ordered any blood tests for Doug Garcia, angry that the sheriff’s department said and still says, “No victim, no crime,” and I’m angry that Doug Garcia is free to go about his business while my daughter lies dead in her grave.
[Editor’s note: Court documents indicate that on April 22, 2008, Doug Garcia was convicted of vehicular manslaughter without gross negligence and sentenced by Judge Louis A. Hanoian to 90 days’ work furlough and three years’ probation. He was fined $614, ordered not to associate with anyone under 18 “unless a parent is present,” and ordered to pay restitution of $17,000 “to the victim’s family.” Staci Thrasher has filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against Doug Garcia. He has filed a defamation-of-character suit against her. Both cases are pending.]