With their backs to a late-afternoon sun dipping into the white-capped ocean and casting a cool glow on the mountains ahead, hundreds of mourners gathered Tuesday at Shoreline Park to remember Mallory Dies.
They talked about a quick-witted and rambunctious little girl toughened up by two brothers, who grew into a cheerleader and sorority sister inspired by history and politics and cherished by countless people in Santa Barbara and beyond. The 27-year-old was sweet and brave and funny, her dad said, recalling her “little snort” of laughter he loved so much and damning the “preventable plague” that took her away.
Dies was hit by a drunk driver just after midnight on December 6 as she crossed Anacapa Street with a group of friends. She suffered severe head trauma in the collision and was taken off life support five days later. The driver, Raymond Morua, fled the scene and was arrested a few blocks away when he crashed his car. Police said his blood-alcohol level at the time was more than twice the legal limit.
After one of Dies’s friends played a song Tuesday on the open stretch of field — singing the chorus “We gained another angel today…” — Dies’s father, Matt Dies, spoke to the crowd. He joked that his daughter’s goodness and beauty came from her mom, and that her trivia knowledge and short legs came from him. With an older and younger brother, Matt said, Mallory grew up playing Ninja Turtles and other such games, developing a “fearlessness” from keeping up with her rough-and-tumble siblings.
Mallory was an early talker, Matt went on, saying words at eight months old and putting together sentences not long after. A bit of a hell-raiser, she would routinely toss toys around her room and tear around her crib late at night. “She loved her dollies,” Matt said, and would play store with neighborhood kids, pretending to hawk items from her room she had dragged to her outside playhouse.
Always smart and always eager to learn more, “Mallory came home angry from kindergarten one day because they hadn’t taught her to read yet,” said Matt with a smile. In 2nd grade, she wrote a dark retelling of “Hansel and Gretel.” Her mom was a little worried. Her dad thought it was great. “I couldn’t believe how good her writing was,” he said. Mallory was a voracious reader, Matt went on, explaining she’d go through two Goosebumps books a night. She eventually started writing short stories and would charge her classmates 25 cents to read them.
In high school in Corona, Mallory lived a typical teenage life with “boyfriends and breakups and laughter and tears,” Matt said. She was a cheerleader but didn’t fit the clique’s mold, enrolling in AP classes and often hanging out with “the smart kids.” She’d get grief from her fellow cheerleaders, but didn’t let that stop her, Matt said. That same instinct would earn her friends in all walks of life in the years to come. “She didn’t really care what people thought,” Matt said.
Mallory went on to attend UCSB — her dream school — and double major in history and law & society. She took summer school courses, graduated in four years, and fell in love with the South Coast, Matt said. She worked as a bartender at Tonic nightclub and lived on Haley Street with an “ever-changing cast of effervescent young people.” He always knew she was popular, he went on, but “never knew until this tragedy how big that love is.”
Matt thanked many of Mallory’s friends by name for being with him and his family during the long, dark hours at Cottage Hospital. “The hugs, tears, and support have meant the world,” he said. Matt also said he was touched by strangers who have reached out to him and asked what they could do. “Go home and hug your kids,” he said he would answer, “because you don’t know how long you’ll have those gifts.” He expressed deep appreciation for Cottage’s doctors and nurses, who did all they could to save Mallory.
Matt concluded with two requests for the crowd. Mallory was an organ donor, he stated, and her final act was “the gift of life.” Five lives were saved by her decision, Matt said, including that of a 28-year-old father who will now get to see his children grow up. “Mark that box on your driver’s license,” Matt said.
He also implored everyone to make a pledge to themselves and others: Don’t drink and drive. “There’s no reason for it, no reason at all,” he said, explaining having even one drink before getting behind the wheel is a mistake. “I’m not talking about .08; I’m talking about zero.”
“Whatever it takes,” Matt said, “we’ve got to give meaning to my little baby’s life being lost.”