A small cross marks the spot on I-27 south of Hale Center where Ashleah Richards was killed in a car wreck by a drunk driver in October 2009. Jimmy Scott Barnhill of Midland was sentenced to 10 years in prison on a charge of intoxication manslaughter after he crossed the median into oncoming traffic and hit the vehicle Richards was driving. He also received probation on two counts of intoxication assault for injuries caused to passengers in the vehicle. Despite her death, Richards' family has forgiven Barnhill, citing alcohol as the ultimate cause of the tragedy. Below is her father's account of that fateful day.
October 11th, 2009... The day our lives changed forever
It was a normal evening Lorraine and I did our normal things we always did on Saturday evenings with one exception our Ashleah had gone to take four girls she barely knew to a dance in Lubbock Tx to celebrate one of the girls birthdays.
I will share here some of the things I play over time & time again in my mind of the hours prior leading up to the tragedy. That Saturday morning was a normal morning in our house, Ashleah and Kassandra always looked forward to our ritual family breakfast at our favorite little Mexican eatery Mi Mexico. Ashleah called me from her room about 9am and said "daddy what time we going" I didn't have to ask what she meant I knew already she wanted dad to take her to breakfast, I replied as soon as your ready baby everyone else will be ready in 15 minutes. Ash was walking into our room in less than 5 min! In anything else she would take two hours to get ready but when it comes to Saturday morning breakfast watch out! After breakfast we were all setting at the table at the restaurant and Ashleah ask what we were going to do today? Our family would always do things together the girls & their friends always would rather be at our house then out doing things. We replied we have to go to Lubbock to return my rental car from the week prior business trip to Canada. She said "after I get off work at 5pm we should all meet in Lubbock and go eat and see a movie". We all agreed that would be fun! By this time it was 10:50am at the restaurant Ashleah got up from the table and said " I have to go get ready for work", and told Lorraine "I will call you mommy after awhile and see were yall are at, I get off at 5pm". She walked around the table gave everyone kisses and as she got to me I stood up to hug her she kissed me on the lips and said "I wove you daddy" and pinched my sides as she said it and turned and walked towards the door and before walking out she stopped for some reason turned looked back at us as she was holding the door smiled with her beautiful smile waved and walked out. That would be the last time we would see our baby girl alive!
Lorraine and I as planned left for our 45 minute drive south to Lubbock from our home in Plainview at 4pm. Lorraine text Ashleah and told her we were leaving to drop the car off at the airport with Ashleah reply "okay mommy I get off in an hour and me and Mattie will meet yall there". We arrive in Lubbock drop the car off and as we are leaving Lorraine receives a text from Ashleah "mommy, Erica just came in and ask me to drive her car with three other girls to Lubbock to the dance to celebrate one of their b-days" Lorraine replied back "why do you have to drive them?" Ashleah replies "they need a designated driver" Lorraine called Ashleah and reminded her of our rules and beliefs about being out after midnight and that no good things happen after that. Ashleah herself came to us just a month before and said she had been praying for her friends that would drive back from Lubbock after the dance and that she doesn't feel that it's good to be out so late. After Lorraine and her get off the phone Lorraine tells her "babe we trust you and your decisions so you do what you feel you should do but dad and I don't want you to go" They hung up and Ashleah calls me about 10 min later and says "daddy I know you and mom don't want me to do this and I understand, I really did want to spend the evening with you and mom but something is telling me I need to take them" she went on to say "you know you can trust me I just feel I need to get them home safe and if something was to happen to them I would feel responsible" I replied back "baby as mommy said we trust your decision we don't want you to go but we know you will make the right decision" this being the last time I would here her voice say " thanks daddy… my big papa… I wove you" I replied "I love you to baby girl I will see you when you get home" Bye baby" Bye daddy" Ashleah texted her mom when she arrived at the dance to tell her they made it with Lorraine texting her back to remind her to call or text when they leave to head home.
Lorraine and I went to lay down about midnight I had dozed off around 1am but Lorraine couldn't sleep so she started reading. At around 3am Ashleah text Lorraine to tell her they were stopping at Whataburger to get some food and something to drink before making the 45 min commute back to Plainview. About 3:25am Ashleah text Lorraine and said they were leaving Lubbock and would be home in 40 min. At 3:55am Lorraine text Ashleah asking her "are you okay?" she waited 5 min with no reply. Lorraine was dialing Ashleah number and her phone rings and on the other end its one of the girls saying "miss Richards Ashleah has been in an accident you need to come now" I had awoke around 3:50am right before Lorraine had sent the first text and I had already began to get dressed. Lorraine keep asking "is she okay?" the young lady would just say "I don't know you need to come now" we jumped in the car and headed south toward Lubbock on I-27 with Lorraine still on the phone. At that time Lorraine began to break down and handed the phone to me and I ask again "is Ashleah okay?" the young girl would say the same I don't know you need to come now. I ask her if she could get to Ashleah and she said she was holding her hand, I ask her to put the phone to her ear and she did. I began talking to Ashleah and repeating how special she is and how much we love her and daddy and mommy are on their way hoping and praying to get a response of daddy I'm okay just hurting but I'm okay but instead silence. My heart began to ache in such a way that I had never felt I just knew that my baby girl was gone I just knew.
As we top the hill and still on the phone I see the emergency lights and then I began to really panic knowing my baby was in those lights. I just hang up the phone and start trying to see Ashleah and the car, as we approach the DPS officer waives us in because he knows us from church I role my window down and I ask him is my baby okay and he shakes his head no. As we are pulling in we see the car Ashleah is in and the young lady that had called standing there still holding her hand and then we see Ashleah but no one else was around, I jump out of the car run up to her and she is laying there eyes closed and a pile of metal. I reached in began holding her and talking to her, Lorraine went around to the passenger side and climbed in and started praying for her and holding her as well. I could not believe what we were seeing, I looked at her as I held her and thought is this real God You gave her to me and now this. I started to cry softly as I held my baby knowing she was gone, my heart was crying in ways I didn't know it could. I look over and see Kasandra and Micah drive up so I left Lorraine there with Ashleah and went over to Kass and told her baby "Ashleah is gone" I'm sorry" I was hurting for her and wanted her okay and did not let her go over to Ashleah being afraid of her going into labor. Lorraine comes over to Kass so I go back to Ashleah and began talking to her pleading for her to open her eyes. As I kneeled down by her side I began to feel a warmness surrounding us and a peace I can't explain in an environment such as we were in. I knew then due to our faith that our baby our Ashleah was entering in to her eternal home. About that time Lorraine and Pastor Steve Martinez come to the side where I kneel and said its time to go, I didn't want to leave her but knew I had to. I stood and held her again kissed her numerous times closed my eyes and ask God to never let me forget what I feel, see and hear this night. As I walked away I could feel Ashleah looking at us, I turned again towards her with a strong urgency to go back to her but was stopped by DPS officers.
As we drove away all I could think of is what's next, how can life go on?