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Family finds strength in tragedy

20140410 MISSION Crime-Victims-Week 1719 featureJuan “J.J.” Sanchez was just 15 when he lost his big sister in an accident involving a drunken driving.

Nine years later, Sanchez and his family showed up in full force to remember Jessica Sanchez during the National Crime Victims Week event hosted by the Mission Police Department. But this year, there  were additions to the clan who Jessica will never know, like J.J’s own 2-month-old daughter.

J.J. remembered Jessica at 17 as a happy girl with a beautiful smile whom everyone loved.

“She would make you happy,” he said. “It’s a hole in your heart that’s always going to be there. It’s always a reminder to let you know you have to watch out and make sure they’re doing drinking the right way and not trying to get messed up and then jump in a car.”

But Jessica had just left her boyfriend’s house one night in May 2005 after a shift at H-E-B. She was pulling out from a stop sign at the Los Indios and Conway Avenue intersection when a truck swerved into her lane, killing her instantly. The driver was a schoolteacher from La Joya, and he was sentenced to 10 years for manslaughter.

Chief Robert Dominguez said it’s important for the police department to show support for the families affected by crime.

“We don’t forget our victims and we don’t forget our families,” Dominguez said. “It’s important they know that we’re here.”

In its seventh year, Mission’s event brought together crime victims advocates from across the Valley as well as the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office. The event started with a quick walk around the block and ended with a balloon release in honor families’ loved ones.

Ana Verley, victims service specialist with Mothers Against Drunk Driving, was with the Sanchez family throughout the trial of the offender. Still, her agency continues to work with them each year when he’s up for parole review. Verley said she helps the families write letters in protest. MADD also puts families in touch with one another for support.

“You can’t help but get close to them,” Verley said after she’d hugged a family goodbye. Of course, there’s boundaries, but at events like this, boundaries don’t count.”

She herself has to remember not to take work home with her, remembering accidents across the years, like a 2005 wreck that killed four children. It’s too devastating, she said.

The tragedy has made the Sanchez family stronger, J.J. said, and brought them together because they now know tomorrow is not a promise.

“Everybody says it happens for a reason, but maybe you shouldn’t have been drinking, and then it wouldn’t have happened,” J.J. said.

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