Parents of child in quadruple-fatality wreck learn driver was drunk

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by JIM DOUGLAS

Bio | Email | Follow: @wfaajdouglas

WFAA

Posted on November 22, 2011 at 7:11 PM

ARLINGTON - 19-year-old Danielle Ruthstrom had not had a drop to drink. And her parents say she would never knowingly get into a car with a drunk driver.

But she did. It was about 2:30 in the morning of Oct. 10.

"It makes me very angry," said her father, Donald Ruthstrom. "Very, very angry."  

The anger boils up from a deep wound.

Donald and Rosemarie Ruthstrom just learned the driver who drove their daughter to her death last month was more than a little drunk.

His BAC was a 0.16. Twice the legal threshold of 0.08.

"I know that if Danielle would have known, she would not have gotten in that car," her mother said.

Danielle just needed a ride home from work at IHOP. She was scheduled to work until 6 a.m., but her boss let her off early. 

Her friend, 21-year-old Stephen Eckel, was behind the wheel when the car shattered against a tree on southeast Green Oaks Boulevard, just a few minutes after Danielle got in.

The crash killed Stephen and his twin brother Michael.

18-year-old Christian Martinez died a few days later.

Doctors pronounced Danielle dead in a hospital about 90 minutes after the crash.

But it was another seven hours before her parents even learned of the wreck.

And they still didn't know she was in the car, even though the crash happened less than a mile from their home.

Danielle's parents tried desperately to contact her throughout the morning and early afternoon.

"[I] went on my Facebook and said, 'Danielle, if you're on Facebook at one of your friends' house, please call me right now. I need to know where you're at,'" her mother said. "Right then and there, I just flipped out."

They found her body at the morgue after calling several hospitals. They don't understand why they never got official notification.

"This is her school I.D. right here that was in her wallet, with her name, her picture," Rosemarie Ruthstrom said.

She noted that the school I.D. has no address or date of birth. She had been nagging Danielle to get a Texas I.D. card, since she did not yet have a driver's license.

A green urn on a table in the dining room contains Danielle's ashes. It is surrounded by prayer candles, and photos of a laughing, playful young woman.

A constant reminder of Danielle's joy, her parent's pain and now, the frustration of knowing what really happened that night.

"I am angry, because my daughter didn't deserve this," Mrs. Ruthstrom said. "She didn't deserve to die. It was just a wrong decision on her part to get in the car."

That's their message: That it is hard, maybe especially hard, for young people to challenge a friend who might be too drunk to drive. But now there are four newly-confirmed, young victims of drunk driving.

In response to a rash of DWI crashes, Arlington police recently launched a new DWI task force. In just three weeks, the team has made at least 74 arrests.

E-mail jdouglas@wfaa.com

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