Family wants to leave a lesson and legacy with memory of deceased daughter

January 20, 2010

PLAINVIEW – It’s been three months since Mark and Lorraine Richards buried their 21-year-old daughter Ashleah, but the wounds are still fresh.

“We still deal with this on a daily basis. It truly is God’s grace that carries us through each and every day,” said Mark, who recently moved his family to Artesia, N.M., to be closer to extended family. “It seems like now we’re still in shock mode; we don’t know how we get through. Ashleah is missed by many and she touched a lot of lives in her short life here.”

Despite their difficulties in moving past their daughter’s death, the Richardson's are hoping to channel their grieving energies into good in memory of a young woman they say loved God and others with all she had. And they want people to remember that Ashleah’s death was preventable.

Ashleah died in an early morning accident on Interstate 27 near Hale Center after a drunk driver traveling on the wrong side of the highway smashed into the car carrying Richards and four Wayland Baptist University students returning from Lubbock to Plainview. Left with only minor injuries, Ashleah – the group’s designated driver – was the only one to lose her life.

“It’s unfortunate that this had to happen to our family, but sometimes it takes something like this to wake people up and change lives. We’ve preached a watered-down Gospel for many years,” Mark said. “We’re trying to be her voice, and our voice is that if you’re a drinker, you’re a contributor to this. That may offend many, but it’s the truth. We will continue to spread that word. If we can save one life, it’s worth it.”

Besides just speaking out about the dangers of drinking, especially when driving is involved, the Richards family is organizing a benefit concert for Feb. 6 with proceeds going into a scholarship fund for Wayland students. They hope to leave a legacy in Ashleah’s name about living life to the fullest, something they feel she practiced well.

“There’s a lot of people here that loved her and still love us, and we just want to do something to let her live on,” said Micah Howard, Ashleah’s brother-in-law and one who has poured much energy into the concert project.

Slated for 6 p.m. in Harral Memorial Auditorium on the WBU campus, the concert will feature three Christian music groups: Road Less Traveled – which features WBU graduate Shawn Anglin – and Portales, N.M.-based bands 1000-Year Reign and The Unlikely, which features lead singer Jacob Richards, Ashleah’s cousin. The concert will also feature a performance by cousin Gabriel Montoya of the song “When I See Your Face,” which he penned the night before Ashleah’s memorial service.

Mark Richards said Jacob approached the family about a benefit and awareness effort and got the ball rolling, and the bands are donating much of their time and performance so the majority of the money can go toward a scholarship. Besides the $10 price of admission, donations will be accepted at the concert toward the scholarship fund. The family has already established a scholarship at Portales High School, where Ashleah was a three-sport athlete and a 2006 graduate.

“Ashleah will continue to live on in our hearts and in the voices of all of us who continue to speak about her life. More than anything, we want her love to continue to radiate out from everyone involved,” Mark said.

But more than just remembering his own daughter, Mark said the family wants to keep other parents from enduring the pain and anguish they continue to suffer daily.

“We want to reach parents and adults who drink and let them hear from our perspective what it’s like to walk up to a wreck and see your baby and know she’s not coming home,” he said. “We want people to start taking responsibility for what they’re doing and what we’re supposed to be doing. We want the church to become a light and a voice and become bold about this type of sinful behavior that took my baby’s life.”

Ashleah played volleyball at Wayland in the fall of 2007, then stayed in Plainview to work. Her parents, sister Kasandra Howard and husband Micah, and brother Dakota moved to the city shortly thereafter and they were a tight-knit family. She remained close friends with many of her former teammates and those with whom she attended church locally.

Many of those friends have memorialized her life on a Facebook page called My Ashleah, a place for people to leave their prayers, memories and messages to the family. Mark Richards said they read and respond to the postings regularly and have found it a great place of healing for themselves and the friends whom Ashleah leaves behind.

Richards hopes the concert will become an annual event and maybe branch out into other cities, taking the same message of hope and healing. He already has plans to speak in schools and other venues in New Mexico and anywhere else he is allowed.

“Any time I have a chance to talk about her life and how special she was and what she gave to this earth as far as love and compassion for others, I will,” he said.