MANSON — Just before graduating from Manson High School in June, Jackie Campos was sitting with a few of her friends, and she asked them to make a pact to stay in touch.
“She said, ‘OK, promise me girls. We’re not going to be like those high school girls who get out of school and forget about each other and drift apart,’” her friend Nelly Perez recalls. “Well, we didn’t drift apart. She just got taken from us.”
A few weeks after graduation, Campos was ejected from the back seat of an SUV on her way home from a party with friends.
She was flown to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, where she died five days later. She was 18 years old.
People remember her as vivacious, popular and highly social — someone who made everyone feel like a best friend.
She played soccer, and earned scholarships to attend Spokane Falls Community College. She was a middle sister, with two older brothers, and a little brother and sister.
Now, as her friends get ready to head off to their freshman year, they’re struggling with moving on.
“It breaks my heart,” Perez said.
Hilario Valdovinos Sanchez, 20, was driving the Ford Explorer that went off the South Lakeshore Road and rolled into a vineyard at 3:15 a.m. on June 24.
Valdovinos was charged in Chelan County Superior Court with vehicular homicide.
The deputy who responded to the scene smelled alcohol, and heard Valdovinos slurring his speech, according to an affidavit filed with the charges by Washington State Patrol trooper Daniel Richmond. He also heard him cry out, ‘Why did you let me drive?” and, “Take my life, not hers!” the affidavit says.
Patti Stracener, who coordinates post secondary programs for the Manson School District, said Valdovinos was home for summer break from Washington State University, where he is studying criminal justice when he crashed.
Now, he’s back at school until his next court date in January, but struggling with what happened, she said. “He lives with it every day.”
Stracener said the community hasn’t turned against him. Campos’s brother and boyfriend are still friends with him. And Campos’s mother, Zenaida Blanco, while distraught, doesn’t blame him for her daughter’s death.
“Every time I see her, she asks if I’ve talked to Hilario,” she said. “She’s very concerned about how this is affecting him.”
She said Blanco “doesn’t want him condemned for it. She doesn’t want to see another life ruined.”
Perez said Campos’s friends feel the same way. “He’s our friend, and we can’t be blaming stuff on him right now. We’re trying to make him know he’s still loved,” she said.
After the accident, while Campos was still alive, she and other students started raising money to help her family pay for her medical expenses.
They opened a bank account, and set out donation cans in local businesses with her photo on them. “The second day, Manson Red Apple called and said, ‘You guys need to come get your jars. They’re full,’” she said.
They held car washes and yard sales and set up a parking benefit on the Fourth of July. A couple of restaurants donated their profits for a day or a meal to the cause. In the end, they raised over $13,500.
Superintendent Matt Charlton said it was tough for the school district to help students, since the fatal accident happened after the start of summer break.
But now, as students head back to school, the district will be looking for a way to remember Jackie, and reinforce the message that drinking and driving ruins lives. “We want to make sure that we utilize the great qualities that Jackie had and the strong friendships she made to help other students understand they can avoid this,” he said.
Perez said she thinks students know that drinking and driving kills people, but they don’t think it will happen to them.
“I just want them to know these things do happen, and just to be careful, and be smart about what they’re doing,” Perez said. “If they’re partying, find a designated driver. We can’t stand to lose someone else because of this.”