"I think Kelly would have said, 'Leave it alone, Mom!'"
Karen Morehouse is sitting at a counter in her kitchen talking about her daughter, 25-year-old Kelly Blue Morehouse, who was killed one year ago on Goldenwest Street when drunk driver, Tadashi Mizutani, 69, of Huntington Beach, collided with the motorcycle she was riding on. Taylor Rolfson, her boyfriend of eight years, was driving the bike. His legs were broken in the crash.
Karen is referring to the great public outcry over the sentence Mizutani received last week — one year in county jail — after a guilty plea. "I really think that's what my daughter would have said. 'Let's move on, Mom. It's over. There are too many positive things in life left to focus on.'"
This tragedy affected many people in Huntington Beach. Kelly was an outgoing, spirited young woman with many friends. She worked for nine years at the Sugar Shack cafe downtown where she was a favorite of many customers.
Both her parents were longtime teachers at Huntington Beach High School. Her father, Bill, retired a couple of years ago, and Karen's last day before retirement is June 12.
"For 39 years I've had the privilege of teaching kids. As I retire, I want to focus on the positive."
As upset as many people are at the sentence — me included — Karen's message provides balance, grace and hope.
"The final line in my speech to the judge at sentencing last week was, 'I know why the victim's families do not sentence the criminal. Because it's impossible for us to sentence to the capacity of sorrow we feel.'
"No sentence can change what happened to my daughter. But the last thing I want to do today is give in to despair and misery. I want to celebrate all of the family and friends that came to court wearing blue for Kelly. Her friends have become my friends.
"I had a bunch of them over for Thanksgiving. And Taylor has been unbelievably sweet. He brought me flowers and a gift for Mother's Day. We all celebrated together last year. And he told me he wanted to do something the way Kelly would've done it this year."
For Karen, these next few weeks will be filled with events and presentations having to do with her retirement and the end of the school year. On Tuesday, she gave out $1,000 scholarships to five Huntington Beach High School seniors, invoking Kelly's spirit, charisma and positive energy.
As she prepares for this next chapter of her life, she said she doesn't want people to feel anger or rage toward the driver who took her daughter's life.
"Two families were destroyed here. Not just mine but his too. What can we do today? We can make real, substantial changes. I would love to see a turn signal at that intersection where the accident happened. I think we need to talk about how to prevent these accidents. I think there should be Breathalyzers in every bar and in every car. That's what we can do as a community. We can focus and work together to create positive change."
Karen also describes how tough it's been for Kelly's younger brother, Billy. "I love how his friends have been there for him. And we have made positive steps since the loss. We're a team, coping together."
As this became a national story last year, one aspect that seemed underreported to me was the amount of community support and compassion that continues to envelope this family. The Morehouses have been here long enough that even Karen's friends from junior high showed up in court to support her last week. This is a story about a shocking and brutal loss. But let's not forget, it's also a story about basic goodness and support.
At the base of the staircase in Karen's home is a beautiful framed picture of her daughter.
"Every night before I go upstairs to bed, I kiss this picture and tell my daughter how much I love her and miss her. Kelly was going to be a schoolteacher and a good one. One of the highlights I was looking forward to in retirement was being there for her. That teaching partnership has been taken away. But we have to go on.
"Maybe there are children that will be inspired to teach from Kelly's story. They all need to find their way and I will always try to help them. That's what I can do for my Kelly today. I can be a part of the positive. I'm an optimist. Or at least I always try to be.
"And as much pain as I have through all of this, I will never let the outrage takeover. There are too many valuable opportunities we can provide for kids today, to help them, and all of us, move on together."
CHRIS EPTING is the author of 19 books, including the new "Baseball in Orange County," from Arcadia Publishing. You can chat with him on Twitter @chrisepting or follow his column at http://www.facebook.com/hbindependent.