2013: Forest Grove girls die in Main Street crash
Editor's note: This story is part of the News-Times' special series, "Decade in Review." This series features three stories that helped to define each year of the 2010s. These can retell single stories that mattered to readers of the time, a saga that played out across many articles, and even stories that were crowded to the margins by other news at the time but have made a lasting impact on our region.
The quietude of a neighborhood street in Forest Grove was shattered Oct. 20, 2013, when a car drove through a leaf pile that two girls were playing in.
Abigail Robinson, 11, and her stepsister Anna Dieter-Eckert, 6, were fatally injured. The driver of the car, 18-year-old Cinytha Garcia, realized she had hit something, but she assumed it was a log or a rock, she later told investigators. When Garcia and her passenger, Mario Echeverria, found out they had struck two children, they didn't come forward, although police were able to identify them as suspects and they were arrested.
Echeverria pleaded guilty Dec. 19, 2013, to hindering prosecution. Also 18 at the time and dating Garcia, he told investigators he took her SUV to a car wash after the crash in an attempt to wash away blood and DNA that could link it to the death of Robinson and Dieter-Eckert. He admitted in court to deliberately destroying evidence and was sentenced to 13 months in prison.
Garcia's case was considerably more complicated. In Washington County Circuit Court, Garcia's attorneys argued, unsuccessfully, that Oregon's hit-and-run statute doesn't actually require a driver to return to the scene when they leave without knowing they caused injury or property damage, even if they learn they were involved in a crash after the fact. A jury convicted Garcia of failure to perform the duties of a driver to injured persons on Jan. 15, 2014, after a trial that lasted more than a week.
Garcia was sentenced to three years' probation. While she avoided a prison sentence in Oregon, the felony conviction exposed Garcia to more serious legal jeopardy. Garcia was not a legal resident of the United States, but having been brought to the country illegally as a young child, she had been eligible for the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. However, undocumented immigrants with a felony record lost their eligibility. Garcia was taken into custody by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and in February 2014, she was transferred to the federal holding facility in Tacoma, Washington, to await possible deportation.
But there were several more twists to come in this story.
Susan Dieter-Robinson, who was Abigail Robinson's mother and Anna Dieter-Eckert's stepmother, and her husband, Tom Robinson, didn't want to see Garcia imprisoned or deported. They argued for leniency at Garcia's sentencing in Washington County Circuit Court, and they did the same when Garcia's attorney argued for a deferred action claim in immigration court. ICE released Garcia from custody in August 2014.
As it turned out, Garcia wasn't guilty of the felonies for which she'd been convicted, according to the Oregon Court of Appeals — although she had to wait until she'd served her three years of probation to find that out. On May 3, 2017, the appellate court threw out the charges and restored Garcia's record.
Garcia's original court defense had been correct, the Court of Appeals ruled: Oregon's hit-and-run law didn't require her to remain at the scene, because she didn't realize she'd been in a crash, and it didn't compel her to return upon finding out. Prosecutors appealed the decision, but the Oregon Supreme Court affirmed the appellate court's ruling on Sept. 14, 2017.
Robinson and Dieter-Eckert's parents had called for leniency in Garcia's case. After her conviction was dismissed, though, they pushed for the hit-and-run law to be changed to apply the same obligations to drivers who learn later that they were involved in a crash.
"We believe in forgiveness," Tom Robinson told state lawmakers. "But we also believe in accountability."
"Anna and Abby's Law" was a slam dunk in Salem. The Legislature approved the law, which was co-sponsored by Aloha Rep. Jeff Barker, without opposition in 2018. It took effect at the start of 2019.
Outside the courtroom and the statehouse, the ripple effects of the accident are still being felt in Forest Grove — and beyond.
The parents were inspired by their loss to create "Love Rocks," affixing a fabric heart to a small rock as a way to share "love and joy" with others. It didn't take long for Love Rocks to become a movement, popping up in 2014 in Troutdale and West Linn after tragedies claimed the lives of young people in those communities.
In Forest Grove, Abigail Robinson and Anna Dieter-Eckert are remembered through the annual Love Rocks Run, a 5K and community event that raises money for the Love Rocks Foundation. In 2020, "Anna and Abby's Yard" is slated to open at Rogers Park in south Forest Grove — a natural play area that will serve as a memorial to the two girls.
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