It is December 13th, 2004, a little after 1:00 AM and a Thursday. My wife Patti stirs from her sleep, waking me in the process. She looked at her alarm clock and said, Sarah will be home soon. We both turned over and went back to sleep.
An hour later the doorbell rang. Our dog Abbey took off barking to the front door as Patti and I were startled awake. Patti wondered aloud why Sarah would come to the front door-perhaps her gate control was not working. We both went to the front door, me holding Abbey as Patti opened the door.
We were startled to see a young Florida Highway Patrol officer standing at our front door. He stood-almost at attention-in his crisply pressed brown and tan uniform. He asked if we were the parents of Sarah Phillips. Before he was even done speaking Patti blurted out, Is she okay? Is Sarah all right? He said that there had been an accident, and that we should come with him. Patti collapsed. By this time our other two children, John 17 and Mary 10 had joined us at the front door. They just stood there looking bewildered. Patti continued to plead for information. The young officer just repeated that we must come with him. I asked where she was-he said at Florida Hospital on Lake Underhill. I told him that Patti would go with him and I would follow behind in our car. We dressed hurriedly. Patti left with the patrolman. I told John to take care of Mary and that I would call him shortly.
As I drove to the hospital I tried very hard to keep my mind empty, to not reason. To reason would be to conclude that Sarah was gone.
I arrived at the hospital and parked near the emergency room. As I entered I headed toward a couple of swinging doors that obviously led to the treatment area. A young nurse sprung from behind a desk and asked where I was going. I told her my name. She game me a so what look. I then said that my daughter was here and gave her name. She said, Wait please. She picked up a phone and dialed and then spoke softly. Soon another nurse appeared through the double door.
I followed her back to the emergency room doors and then she opened another door, through which I could see Patti sitting, with her hands clasped in her lap, rocking back and fort, and crying uncontrollably. There was a man sitting beside her with his hand on top of her clasped hands. She glanced up at me and told me what I already knew. Sarah is gone. I sat on her other side and put my arm around her.
Soon a young doctor came in and pulled a chair over in front of Patti and I. She said Sarah had died, almost certainly instantly, of blunt force injuries to the back of her head as a result of the crash. I asked how the other 3 girls were-she said that Sarah was alone.
Soon someone from the Medical examiners office came and asked to speak to me. I followed him out to the corridor. He handed me a plastic baggie with several pieces of jewelry in it. I slipped it into my pocket. He asked if we wanted to see Sarah, and also to identify her. He said he would come back in a few minutes. I went back to the waiting room, resumed my place next to Patti and quietly asked he if she would like to see Sarah. She thought for a short time and then said she preferred to remember Sarah as she was. Shortly thereafter the man from the Medical Examiners office returned and I got up and followed him down the corridor. I had no idea what to expect.
We came to a treatment room with the curtains drawn, he stopped and stuck his head through the curtain, and in response to an unseen signal he drew the curtains open and motioned for me to come in. As I walked into the room I could see a couple of people standing to the side, almost at attention. Their eyes showed no emotion. My eyes were drawn to a gurney where Sarah laid with a clean white sheet pulled up to her chin. Her arms were at her sides, outside the sheet. She appeared to be asleep. Except for a small scrape on her forehead, she looked the same as she had the previous afternoon.
As I walked to the right of the gurney I put my hand on hers, bent over and kissed her forehead. As I withdrew I could see traces of dried blood around her ear. I whispered Good-bye Roo. into her ear and collapsed to my knees.
What Sarah looked like that night is in sharp contrast to what her autopsy later showed.
DISTRICT NINE MEDICAL EXAMINER
MANNER OF DEATH: Accident
It would be several weeks before I read the autopsy report which echoed the
characterization by the young State Trooper who came to our door that fateful night,
There has been an accident. It is hard to imagine that this statement
concerning the death our 20 year-old daughter could be comforting to us and even we were
not aware at the time that it was.
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