On a picturesque afternoon last week outside the County Courthouse, Santa Barbara District Attorney Joyce Dudley, Sheriff Bill Brown, and County 2nd District Supervisor Janet Wolf gathered at the Sunken Gardens to honor National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. Celebrated this year from April 10-16, the County of Santa Barbara showed its support by presenting “Citizen of Courage” awards to victims who have shown strength in the face of a crime.
This year, Victims’ Rights Week began with a call of attention to Distracted Driving Awareness Month. As Joyce Dudley introduced the first recipients of the Citizen of Courage Awards (which recognize individuals who have shown resilience in the aftermath of crimes), she implored the crowd, which included members of the press and public, as well as crime victims and their families, not to allow themselves to be distracted while driving.
“Some of the people you’re going to meet today will forever suffer,” said Dudley, “because of distracted drivers who did horrible and terrible things as a result of their carelessness.”
Dudley began by telling the story of Jake Boysel, a 12-year-old boy who had been riding his bike to school when struck and killed by a car. Although Jake was wearing a helmet and was versed in bike safety, neither could prevent the tragedy that took his life on a September morning in 2006.
Jake’s parents, Jim and Karen Boysel, received the Citizen of Courage award for their resiliency in the aftermath of their son’s death. Despite their grief, the Boysels reached out the community in order to promote awareness of the dangers of distracted driving. In fact, the Boysels explained that their efforts in creating signs, posters, and stickers promoting awareness of the perils of dangerous driving have helped them overcome their sorrow.
“I look at those signs and it makes me calm down when I’m around school,” said Jim Boysel. “We’ve been thanking schools for allowing us to do that.”
A Citizen of Courage Award was also presented to Eilene and Bob Okerblom, who have suffered but persevered in the memory of their son Eric. Two summers ago, 19-year-old Eric Okerblom was killed while biking on Telephone Road, near Santa Maria. A teenage driver struck Eric while driving 60 miles per hour, and cell phone records indicate that the driver was texting prior to the accident.
The Okerbloms have also reached out to the community by creating the Eric Okerblom Foundation, a non-profit foundation seeking to reduce distracted driving. The organization includes projects such as a coast-to-coast bike trip and a letter-writing campaign to State Senator Sam Blakeslee.
“Distracted driving is starting to rival drunk driving,” said Eilene Okerblom. She added, “Texting increases the risk of accidents by four times.”
Okerblom also takes an active role in promoting awareness during her everyday life. She explained that if she sees someone using a phone in his or her car, she takes the time to explain the dangers of doing so. But of these confrontations, she said, “Some listen, and some don’t.”
The event also honored two members of the Lompoc Police Department, Officer Tammy Clancy and Detective Suzie Aanerud, with the Victim Service Award. Officer Clancy and Detective Aanerud were recognized for their dedication and bravery in committing countless hours to the investigation of 4-year-old Diego Calles, who was beaten to death in a Lompoc motel room in 2009. Their efforts proved successful when the perpetrator was sentenced to 75 years in prison.
The Victim Service Award was also awarded to recently retired Senior Deputy District Attorney Ron Zonen, who has dedicated nearly 30 years of service, and has undertaken some of the most trying sexual assault and child molestation cases.
The members of the audience, including those honored with awards, appeared moved by the talks, which were poignant and timely. The overarching message was shown through recognition of victims’ commitment to using their grief as drive to promote awareness and aid the community.
“As the Boysels have shown us, life goes on,” said Supervisor Wolf, “and I thank them for that.”