By: Jessica Shorten
CONROE, TX – On Tuesday, December 6th, 2016, DWI Tracker, Inc. and Local Crime Victim Advocates came together to host the 18th annual lighting of the “Tree of Angels” for the families of victims of violent crimes. This event brings together those who have lost family members who were victims of crimes, and allows them to hang an angel ornament on the tree in memory of their loved one.
The event started in 1998, and its participants have grown over the years. People view this event as a good source for closure and comfort during the holidays. One such family who came out in honor of their daughter was the Tabor family.
Tori Tabor was out with friends on Friday, October 26, 2012, when Brian Goetz crashed the vehicle they were in and killed 2 of the passengers, including Tabor. Officers were able to confirm Goetz was intoxicated while he was behind the wheel, and he was arrested under charges of intoxication manslaughter.
Four years later, Goetz was finally convicted, but since the jury could not come to a unanimous conclusion on the intoxication manslaughter charges, he received the maximum sentence of the lesser charge of DWI, which was only 6 months in jail.
To the Tabor family’s disappointment, Goetz was given credit for time served and was released from jail on November 19, 2016.
“Our frustration is the jury couldn’t know that he broke his probation [the terms of his bond], but he was allowed to use time served for that [the time he served while waiting for a new bond].” Catherine Tabor, the mother, expressed her frustrations on the bias that occurred during the trial. One of the main problems was the fact information regarding Goetz’s bond violations was not allowed to be taken into consideration by the jury. Tabor stated how Goetz had not only violated the terms of his bond, but he had been caught several times by the car breathalyzer trying to drink and drive while the case was ongoing. “It needs to be equal, if you can’t bring a conviction [violation] up, you shouldn’t be able to use time served for that.”
Aubree Tabor, sister to Tori, expressed her feelings on the death of her sister as well. “I’ll go to the store and I’ll see something my sister would like; and picking it up to buy it, and I remember I don’t need to buy this anymore.” She wished that Goetz would have spent more time behind bars to deal with the pain he caused the victim’s families.
The Tabor family really wished they had seen changes in Goetz’s actions. They have observed Goetz’s conduct since the accident, and they feel he is not remembering his friends and the damage he caused to the families. The Tabor’s wish Goetz would learn from this tragedy and possibly talk to peer groups about the impact drunk driving has had on his life.
The task of lighting the angel tree was given to the Tabors, after which, First Assistant District Attorney Mike Holley spoke. Holley’s message to all the families he deals with on a daily basis is to keep hope that things will get better. He stated, “It is right to be angry when the innocent are hurt and killed.” Holley wanted to send a message of assurance to the families that it is okay to be angry at those who have hurt them, but not to let that anger consume them. He encouraged people to continue remembering those they’ve lost, but to keep their heads up even when faced with disaster. Holley also wanted them to know he understands the pain will never truly leave, but he told them that it will ebb away slowly with time.
Afterward, Lieutenant Kevin Ray with the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office spoke with the families of the victims. “Everyone wearing the uniform can’t necessarily empathize with your loss; I won’t sit here and try to be that person, because I don’t understand.” Ray went on to describe an incident when he was a rookie called onto a major crash with fatalities. “I have the unfortunate memory of watching this young man take his last breath, and I would like to tell you I have a magic answer to deal with that, but I don’t.” Lieutenant Ray encouraged families to not lose their faith or hope after these traumatic events, but to keep going and remember those who could not make it.
The entire night was one of tears and heartbreak, but together, people were able to find solace in the memory of their loved ones. This function allows people to honor those who were taken from this Earth too soon, but also to come to terms that it is all a part of God’s plan. The Tree of Angels stands as a reminder of the past, and a symbol of moving forward to the future for these families.