Vigil for Ashton Sweet tonight in Irvine

It’s been a year since Northwood teenager Ashton Sweet was killed by a drunk driver at the corner of Culver Drive and Irvine Blvd.  There will be a candlelight vigil tonight at 8PM at the corner where a tree was planted in her memory.

What makes her death painful not just to her family and friends, is that she was a passenger in a car driven by one of her friend’s parents after a birthday party.  How many times have you, as a parent, driven your kids and their friends to and from a pizza parlor, the movies, the mall or from the game?  As  a parent, how many times have you let your child drive off with a trusted neighbor and friend?  Imagine the horror to learn through no fault of yours or theirs that a selfish drunk driver has taken your child’s life or caused them injury.

Through a new Persian-American Group that’s been formed in Irvine to help members of the community, I’ve met Michael Ghaemi, the driver of the car that was struck that night.  I’ve thought about him for a long time before we had every actually met.  He is a man of principle and character who has chosen to take this horrible accident and tragedy and turn it into something positive — helping teenagers learn about the dangers of drinking and driving and being an advocate for change.

Michael released this statement for TheLiberalOC:

“Friends —

With the anniversary of my horrific accident coming up this Tuesday, I can’t hide the raw emotions and empitness it has caused for all who shared this sad journey with me.  Despite being so appreciative of this new lease on life and surving the culprits vicious attack on all that was pure and innocent, we carry a heavy burden and refuse to stop wondering about the main cause of this crime.  Drink driving kills.  Come light a candle in memory of sweet Ashton and advocate better educational measures to teach about the evils of Drunk Driving.”

We’ll note folks planing to attend should try to walk from nearby Northwood neighborhoods.  There is some parking at the shopping plaza across the street and additional parking at Hick’s Canyon and Lower Peter’s Canyon; but best to get there early.

For neighbors, the corner was a memorial to Ashton Sweet with flowers, candles and teddy bears for months.  The City of Irvine eventually planted a tree in her memory.  And while there were grief counselors on hand at Northwood High School in the days following her death, there’s a part of me that believes it wasn’t nearly enough.  I don’t think IUSD did enough to help those high school kids cope with Sweet’s death and I believe getting these kids the help that they really need has become one of Michael Ghaemi’s missions.

So when we pray for Ashton Sweet to be at peace, we shouldn’t forget prayers for her mother, step-father and family.  Nor should we forget prayers for Michael Ghaemi and his family.  And prayers for Ashton’s close friends still struggling with the loss.

I’d like to invite State Rep. Roger Hernandez to attend tonight’s vigil as he’s pushing a bad bill to basically allow convincted drunk drivers to do community service by basically going to work instead of collecting trash.  Hernandez is still pushing this bill after pleading not-guilty to a drunk driving charge in Northern California earlier this year despite having blood tests come back over the legal limit.  Perhaps seeing the grief that a drunk driver can inflict on a community can convince Rep. Hernandez to change his mind about his bill.