Feature

Rewrite

Nearly seven years ago, 16-year-old Todd Stansfield was behind the wheel of his car when it smashed into another vehicle on a rural, two-lane road in Douglas County. Four people died. Stansfield lived. And ever since he put pen to paper after the crash, he’s been trying to use the power of his words to make sense of that horrific night.

May 2011

Ivan Majestic sits at the kitchen table in his home just outside Parker, a ranch house with a deck, a barbecue grill, and a long dirt driveway, flanked on each side by brush and yucca. He’s staring at the hutch in the corner of the room, at the bronze urn behind the glass.

The urn is beautiful, a miniature mountain with an eagle soaring at its peak; the bronze reflects the sunlight. The hutch is like a time capsule, a shrine to a boy who will never grow old. There’s a photo of Tony in his baseball uniform—hands on hips, a wide, bright, mischievous smile splashed across his face—and another picture of him dressed up for Halloween as Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz. At the bottom, in a sealed white bag marked “MAJESTIC, ANTHONY,” are the belongings Tony was carrying the night he died: keys, wallet, spare change. On another shelf is a ball Tony gave to his dad on Father’s Day nearly 11 years ago. The date is written in black ink across the cowhide: June 18, 2000. Four years, to the day, before the crash that would take his life.

There’s the old cliché that time heals all wounds. But sit here with Ivan Majestic—at the table where he watched his boy so many years ago—and see him stare at the urn that holds what’s left of his son. When you lose a child, he says, you mourn the death of the present and of the future. All the what-ifs in life. What would Tony have done after high school? What would he be doing right now? “There’s a range of emotions,” Ivan says. He has a tattoo of his son’s face on his left arm. “There’s denial and anger. Some people get depressed. It changes you. Am I a better or worse person today? No. Am I a different person? Of course I am.”

A few miles across town on a snowy winter night several weeks later, Marvin Gilchrist’s son sips a beer while his wife sits by his side in a Mexican restaurant. It’s been more than a year since Scott Gilchrist learned that Todd left town to start a new life—news that makes him question whether justice was served in his father’s case. “I don’t know that Todd is truly sorry,” the 55-year-old auto-body shop owner says. Scott is stocky, and a gray goatee hangs below his chin. “You always hear people say there’s a reason for everything. Well, what was the reason for this?”

He says that, yes, his father was an old man; that, at the age of 77, who knows how many years Marvin Gilchrist had left? His father was drinking, yes, but he wasn’t drunk. The sheriff’s investigators said it wouldn’t have mattered. How many people could have gotten around a car going that fast, slipping sideways into an oncoming lane? “It’s ridiculous,” Scott says, shaking his head. His wife reaches for his hand. “It’s like every time we went to that courthouse, with all those protestors supporting Todd, that we were being victimized again,” Janet Gilchrist says. “It’s like everyone forgot what had happened. Four people died, and Todd was behind the wheel. Todd had sole responsibility over that crash.”

The two think about what could make their lives easier, or at least could help them move beyond the anger they still feel. Janet says she’d like to hear from Todd, “but only if he’s really sorry.” Scott says he will never be able to forgive Todd, especially since the move. “It’s too late,” he says. “Why did Todd have to go to New York? So he could get away from this? When do I get to run away?”

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