PRESCOTT VALLEY, AZ - Prescott native Carmella Leyva's teenage son, Christian, was killed in a car accident six years ago. She still remembers holding the hand of the 16-year-old’s lifeless body in a hospital bed following the crash.
"That was the last time I felt his warmth, under my hand," said Leyva. "I got his arm, put it over me, laid my head on his chest and I just laid there with my arm around him, crying."
He was a passenger in a car that flipped over, trying to avoid an oncoming car that had swerved into their lane in Prescott. His driver wasn't impaired, but Christian wasn't wearing a seatbelt.
Police still haven't found the driver of the other car, and Leyva is now left only with a brown cross memorial in his name.
"It's like losing my best friend," Leyva said.
Detective James Tobin with the Prescott Valley Police Department started the White Cross Project two years ago. The goal, to educate youth on the stories behind roadside memorials like Leyva's, and in the process, bring an end to preventable car accidents.
"We want people to realize that life can be over in half a heartbeat," said Tobin.
And during those roadside memorial visits with the project, he reminds youth to think about these things before hitting the road.
"Don't drink and drive. Don't drug and drive. Always wear your seatbelt. And say no to underage drinking," Tobin said.
Leyva now works with the project as a guest speaker, telling her story and reminding folks to think about others on the road.
"I do it for my son. I don't want anybody to forget him," Leyva said.
Her son's birthday is this Saturday, he would have turned 23.
Learn more about MATFORCE, one organization working with the White Cross Project.