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  Casey Goodwin’s car was hit by a suspected drunken driver

Published on Wednesday, March 19, 2003 in the Exeter Sun Newspaper

By Reggie Ellis (The Exeter Sun)

No family in Exeter knows better the perils of drinking and driving than the Goodwins.  Lynne Goodwin is an alcohol prevention specialist for Tulare County Office of Education who helps coordinate the “Every 15 Minutes” programs, where students act out a drunken driving accident, in Woodlake and Exeter.  Her oldest daughter Casey Goodwin 20, is active in Friday Night Live, a program that encourages teens to not drink and drive, and has organized sober-graduation programs for Exeter Union High School (EUHS).  Casey, a 2000 graduate of EUHS, had just began coordinating similar programs during her second year as a liberal arts major at Cuesta Community College in San Luis Obispo.

But unfortunately the tragedy of drinking and driving hit closer to home last Wednesday night. On that night, Casey was on her way home for the weekend to celebrate her mother’s birthday on Friday, March 14, but she would never make it home.

At about 5 p.m. Casey’s car was hit by a suspected drunken driver on Highway 41 near Kettlemen City.   Fernando Ochoa, 18, of Stratford was arrested at the scene and charged with driving under the influence of alcohol.  He was then transported to Hanford Community Medical Center due to major injuries.  Casey was airlifted to University Medical Center in Fresno, where she died at about 7:00 a.m. last Thursday.

“She had so many friends and was so well loved by everyone,” said Reed Goodwin, Casey’s father.  “This wasn’t an accident.  Someone made a choice to drive drunk.  We’ve all been cheated of a wonderful person.” 

Lynne struggled to complete her sentences as the pain of losing her daughter was still too fresh in her mind.  “Casey could have fun doing anything with anybody.”  Lynne said. “It’s the little things that I will miss.”

Casey’s funeral services were held on Monday at the First Assembly of God in Visalia.  She was buried yesterday.  Surviving her were her three siblings: Christopher-18; Kyle-15; and Kellie-13.  Christopher said you always knew when Casey had played in a water polo game because she would enthusiastically describe every detail,

“She was almost too nice,” he said about his sister who was smaller than many of her opponents and teammates.  “I don’t think she ever kicked anyone back during a game.  But she was tough too.

Kellie said she plays the flute just as her sister did.  Reed said Kellie and Casey were extremely close and that Casey loved to shop and bring home presents for her little sister.  Words didn’t come easily for Kyle.  His somber face only cracked with the occasional smile from a memorable anecdote. 

Jacob Howell, who attended Cuesta with Casey, said he remembers when they first met while working at Thrifty Car Rental in San Luis Obispo.  “She could always make you happy,” Howell said.  “She had the potential to turn your worst day into one of your best with her smile.” 
 “The Goodwins are an extremely close family.”  Howell said.  “Casey made monthly trips home to be with family for holidays, anniversaries, birthday parties, and get-togethers, everything.”

Mary Anne Baker, Casey’s Grandmother, said the last time she saw Casey was on Christmas Day.  And the last photograph she had of her granddaughter was from Thanksgiving.  “I called her the night before she died to make plans for her mother’s birthday.”  Baker said. “The last thing she said was “I love you grandma.”  Baker said the best years of her family’s life began the day Casey was born.  “We knew when she was born she was something special,” Baker said.  “That very day her father got a new job with Moore North America in Visalia and he’s been there ever since.”

Casey’s aunt, Laura Preciado, reminisced about Casey’s search for the perfect star necklace to go with her dress as EUHS Homecoming Queen.  She was Fall Festival First Princess in 1999, “She was a star,” Preciado said.  “She was the light and beauty in our lives.”  Casey was also an avid swimmer and water polo player at Cuesta.  Jessica Gailey was Casey’s friend and teammate on Cuesta’s water polo team.  She said Casey was one of the most accepting and encouraging friends she had ever met.  “Whenever you were with her, you were having a good time,”  Gailey said. “We could talk for hours.”  Jessica said she and Casey had talked about attending a four-year university together and getting their teaching credentials.  Lynne said Casey was debating between transferring to Fresno State or Chico State University to pursue a career in teaching.  “She always wanted to be a teacher,” Lynne said.  She then pointed to one of Casey’s first homework assignments that was delicately resting on the piano Casey had filled in the blank with her name and the word “Teacher”.  It read, “When Casey grows up she wants to be a teacher.”

While the Goodwins will never see their oldest graduate with her teaching degree, in a way, Casey has been a teacher all her life.  Talking to peers about the dangers of drinking and driving, helping friends who need someone to talk to, teaching swim lessons, or just personifying what it means to be a great person.  Casey taught many things to many people. 

Hopefully, the last lesson Casey has taught us all is that those who make the choice to drink and drive are taking more than a personal risk.  They are risking the life of beautiful people like Casey Goodwin.

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