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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Former student remembered

    JAKE LACEY / Arizona Daily Wildcat

Marketing senior Ashley Trevino, criminal justice and accounting sophomore Amanda Dennehy and marketing junior Annette Irons remembered Michelle Combs at the El Parador restaurant yesterday during a birthday reception. Combs was student of the University of Arizona and a victim of a fatal motorcycle accident last semester.
    Jake Lacey
    JAKE LACEY / Arizona Daily Wildcat Marketing senior Ashley Trevino, criminal justice and accounting sophomore Amanda Dennehy and marketing junior Annette Irons remembered Michelle Combs at the El Parador restaurant yesterday during a birthday reception. Combs was student of the University of Arizona and a victim of a fatal motorcycle accident last semester.

    UA students and family members gathering last night to celebrate the life of a student who died in a motorcycle crash expressed their support for a bill that would allow jail time for illegal drivers who cause deadly accidents.

    Michelle Grace Combs, who was a retail and consumer sciences sophomore, died last October when the motorcycle she was riding collided with a car.

    Sunday was her birthday – she would have been 21.

    About 35 people attended the celebration, which featured food and scrapbooks with pictures of Michelle.

    “”It’s all about healing and moving forward while still celebrating her life,”” said Jocelyn Combs, Michelle’s mother.

    The birthday celebration was held at El Parador, 2744 E. Broadway Blvd., the restaurant where Michelle worked.

    Michelle had just gotten off work the night she died when she got on the motorcycle with co-worker Curtis Taylor, 23. Taylor was badly injured in the accident and sustained brain damage.

    Curtis Taylor and his mother Sallie Taylor were at the celebration. Both said they would like to see the law pass and expressed disappointment with current Arizona law.

    Curtis Taylor, who does not remember the accident, said he’s sad about Michelle’s death and said he wishes he could remember her. Taylor had to learn how to talk and walk again after the accident and is now working on reading and writing, where his progress has been promising.

    Sallie Taylor, who noted that she and her son lost much in the accident, said the celebration was good because people are usually afraid to talk about what happened.

    “”It makes you crazy, it makes you wonder if the whole thing is a figment of your imagination,”” she said. “”It’s good to have this kind of support.””

    Although Michelle had only worked at the restaurant for a few weeks, Combs said it was appropriate to have the celebration there because “”it was the last place where she saw people and ate and stood.””

    Combs said she remembers how excited Michelle was after receiving her first paycheck from El Parador for $9.

    “”I found it after (her death) and realized it hadn’t been signed so she couldn’t even have cashed it,”” she said.

    Combs said Michelle had a learning disability and decided to go to the UA after learning about the Strategic Alternative Learning Techniques (SALT) Center.

    “”She was just thrilled when she came here,”” she said. “”It was like she came home.””

    At the celebration there was a scrapbook dedicated to the UA that Michelle had made. It included photos of the men’s basketball team, her acceptance letter to UA and information about the SALT Center.

    Michelle was very involved in Alpha Kappa Psi, a professional business fraternity on campus, and many of the students at the celebration were members.

    Pre-communication junior Casie Squires said that’s where she met Michelle.

    “”She was just an overall great person and someone you always wanted to be around,”” she said.””

    Combs, a resident of Pleasanton, Calif., came to Tucson for her daughter’s birthday and to attend the hearing today for Richard Verdugo, 37, the man whose car hit her daughter.

    Verdugo could accept a plea bargain at the hearing or could choose to go to trial, which would be later this year.

    At the time of the accident, Verdugo was cited with an enhanced penalty for failing to yield in a left-turn lane and for registration and insurance violations. He was also arrested for driving on a suspended license. Under Arizona law he could only be issued a traffic citation for the accident that caused Michelle’s death with the option for a judge to issue a $1,000 fine.

    However, drivers in similar accidents could soon face harsher penalties. On Thursday, the Arizona House of Representatives Transportation Committee approved House Bill 2208.

    Under the bill, sponsored by Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, a driver could be found guilty of negligent homicide and face up to two and a half years in prison if the driver killed someone while violating a traffic law relating to red lights, stop signs and crosswalks. The driver would also have to have a driver’s license that was suspended, revoked or obtained falsely.

    The bill would also allow up to a year and a half of jail time for a driver who causes serious injury to someone under the same circumstances.

    The bill still has to go before the full legislature and the governor before becoming a law. Combs said she plans to head to Phoenix this week and try to meet with Gov. Janet Napolitano to discuss the bill.

    Combs originally wanted a bill that would allow jail time for drivers whose traffic violations caused death regardless of whether they were driving illegally or not, but said she is happy with the current bill.

    “”It doesn’t go far enough,”” she said. “”But we have to take small steps.””

    Finance junior Brianna York, Michelle’s former roommate and a member of the business fraternity, said members of Alpha Kappa Psi had just come back from a conference in Las Vegas on what would have been her birthday.

    She said Michelle, who loved road trips, had gone to the conference last year and said it seemed special that it was held so close to her birthday this year.

    York said the group celebrated Michelle’s birthday on the trip by drinking her favorite alcoholic beverages during what would have been Michelle’s power hour.

    “”Sometimes it’s easy to talk about her,”” Brianna York said. “”Sometimes it just hits us that she would have been here.””

    York said even though the bill in the legislature won’t help in Michelle’s case, she thinks it will be good for future Arizonans in similar circumstances.

    The bill may not serve as a deterrent since many people don’t know the law, she said.

    But York said the bill will bring closure for those left behind, such as Michelle’s family and friends.

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