Woman Killed in Drunk Driving Accident remembered through Waco Bridge Suspension Ceremony
The heights above the Waco Suspension Bridge were dotted with dozens of purple balloons on Sunday as the family and friends of Tina Saldierna memorialized and celebrated her 31st birthday. A birthday that Saldierna would herself have been celebrating with her loved ones had her life not been cut short by two individual and different drunk drivers.
Tina Saldierna was killed on New Year’s Day in 2010 yet her family still finds every New Year’s Day painful and for the past three years, they have decided to remember her on her birthday. For Sunday’s event, about 50 of Saldierna’s close friends and family turned up with the purpose of memorializing her life and calling attention to the tragedy that struck her. Two of her four children and many other family members were wearing T-shirts with her photo on them while almost every one attending was wearing purple clothes, Saldierna’s favorite color.
The balloon releasing event was extremely heart wrenching but what was even more touching and sad were the short statements made by the victim’s two sons. Auggie Marquez, 7, was only four years old when his mother passed away and he said that the thing he remembers most about her was the way she took care of him when he was sick, bringing 7-Up soft drinks to make him feel better. Auggie also expressed how much he missed his mother saying, ‘If I could call up to heaven, I would tell you I miss you and I wish I could see you’.
Rolando Marquez Jr., 8, was five years old at the time when he had to witness his mother’s dead body. In addition to talking about how much he misses her, he requested all the people to take drunk driving seriously.
Rebecca Upchurch of Hillsboro, Saldierna’s mother, also spoke at the event and urged people to not drink and drive. She recalled the hours before her daughter’s death when the family was planning to follow their custom of attending the church together on New Year’s Eve.
Planning for New Year
Saldierna was working in Waco at a retail store and the previous year had been hard on her. Her mother recalls that so she and her daughter shared their hopes and dreams for the coming year 2010 during the church service. According to her mother, Saldierna was looking forward to getting married in May 2010, buying a house, going back to college and becoming a social worker.
She also remembered that after the service, Saldierna was planning to go visit a relative in Florida so she got into the car with her fiancé, her sons and some other family members. At 4.30AM that morning, Upchurch recalls getting a call from her son who kept on saying, ‘We’ve lost her’, over and over. At first, she could not understand who they had lost after which her son said, ‘We’ve lost Tina’. Upchurch was still confused as she thought that they must have left her behind at a gas station or a restaurant. Eventually when her brain processed the news, Upchurch only remembers screaming out as loud as she could.
The Horrible Accident
Only later did Upchurch find out the full details of her daughter’s horrible accident which took place on the Houston freeway. Saldierna’s brother was driving the car when a drunken driver hit the car but he still managed to retain control of the car and pull over on the side of the road. Saldierna then got out of the car to check if everyone was okay and it was then that the second drunk driver unrelated to the first, came and hit Saldierna on the road.
In addition to her daughter’s death, an additional source of pain for Upchurch is the fact that the driver was sentenced to only six months in prison and 10 years of probation. Now in addition to her two sons, Saldierna’s two other children from a previous marriage, a 13 year old daughter and 11 year old son who live with their father in Hillboro, were to cope with the loss of their mother.
Trying to Cope With the Loss
The father of the two younger boys, Rolando Marquez, tells the boys at bed-time, stories about their mother; of how they met, their adventures and places they went together. He believes that seeing her photos and talking about her is their way of coping with the loss. The children enjoy such stories and are always anxious to read their letters and hear more about her.
Marquez also remembers her laugh which, according to him, was quite distinct. The 26 year old Marquez is living with his sons in Waco and even though it has been three years for him, he still feels it was like yesterday.
Deaths Due to Drunk Driving
The Texas Department of Public Safety reports that about 1113 people died in Texas because of drunk drivers in the same year as Tina Saldierna. The Department also showed that last year, 14 people were killed in McLennan County alone. The statistics haven’t improved as the alcohol related crashes last year amounted to 296.
The victims’ service specialist working for the local chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Reita Hill hopes that Saldierna’s crash will call to attention the importance of not getting behind the wheel while under the influence. Hills also sent a similar message to all those gathered at Waco Suspension Bridge to celebrate Tina Saldierna’s birthday. According to her, the society needs to change otherwise; one out of the seven people gathered will be affected by drunk driving. She also believed that a conscious change was possible firstly by telling Tina’s story of her crash and touching the hearts of people.
The event on the bridge was concluded with Hill’s remarks and by singing ‘Happy Birthday’ for Tina Saldierna. Then the company released the purple balloons to end at a positive note and remember all the good times they had with Saldierna.