Longform

DEAD and GONE

Angela Maher died on the evening of July 29, 1994, in a crumpled sedan--her feet tangled in the pedals, her body thrown between the bucket seats.

The last thing Angela saw was a half-ton Ford van that drifted into her lane and smashed almost head-on into her Oldsmobile on Scottsdale Road.

It was a twist of cruel irony that Angela was killed by a drunken driver; years before, she had founded a chapter of Students Against Drunk Driving at her high school.

Angela, 21, was about to begin her senior year at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska. A political-science major, she wanted to join the foreign service someday, see the world's great capitals. Her graduation portraits had been taken.

Yet she was not completely willing to leave childhood behind. She still watched Sesame Street. She loved to bake peanut butter cookies. She drove her older brother, Donald Jr., nuts by stealing his boxers, stitching up the fly and wearing them as shorts.

She insisted on hugging and kissing her mother whenever either of them left the house. You never know if you'll see a person again, she'd say.

Angela was home that week from summer school because she didn't want her mother, Rose Marie, to be alone on her birthday, July 27. Her father, Donald Sr., had died of cancer in 1990, and Donald Jr. was in law school in Michigan. Mother and daughter had gone to see Forrest Gump to celebrate.

Two evenings later, Angela picked up her mother from her office in Carefree and took her to the Maher residence, near 60th Street and Thunderbird. At about 10 p.m., Angela decided to meet a friend at Stixx, a club on Camelback Road. She said she'd be home by midnight.

But Angela never made it as far as Shea Boulevard. She was pronounced dead at 10:34 p.m. The official cause of death: massive blunt-force trauma.

Tanya Whitesell witnessed the accident. In a deposition, she recalls, "The person that was driving the van looked to me like they were trying to commit suicide or something or they were on drugs ... because what happened was so irrational, and the way the [van] hesitated for a split second and then smashed across the street into the other car was just kind of crazy."

After striking Angela's car, the van flipped high into the air and landed on its roof.

Amazingly, the driver of the van, 33-year-old Gloria Schulze of Scottsdale, sustained only a broken jaw. She was wearing a seat belt; Angela Maher was not.

Angela's grieving mother and brother were determined that Schulze be punished. They exhorted prosecutors, encouraging them to proceed carefully, not to let Schulze off the hook.

Their worst fears have come to pass.
On the night of the wreck, police officers, paramedics and a doctor at Scottsdale Memorial Hospital all smelled alcohol on Schulze's breath. She told one of the cops she'd had three or four beers.

A blood test revealed that Schulze's blood-alcohol level was .15, well above the legal limit of .10. A urinalysis detected traces of marijuana, although it did not show definitively whether Schulze had been stoned at the time of the wreck.

Little is known about Schulze's actions on the night of the accident, or about her life in general. And she's not around to answer questions.

Gloria Schulze is on the lam. She disappeared in September 1995, weeks before she was to go on trial for manslaughter. She has not spent a single minute in jail. She didn't even lose her driver's license.

Angela Maher was mourned far and wide. She had friends all over the world who considered her as family. It was standing room only at her memorial service at Creighton University's 1,500-seat chapel.

Rose Marie Maher was devastated. When police officers told her of Angela's death, she ran screaming through her house, pounding on the cops and threatening everyone she could think of, including the cops, the driver who caused the wreck--even herself.

Rose Marie is tough. She runs her own travel agency in Carefree. Now she's thrown her energy into the court case against Gloria Schulze.

She's not looking for money. Last year she settled with Schulze's insurance company for a paltry $15,000, the maximum liability Schulze carried. Rose Marie's insurance company paid another $200,000.

The Mahers were certain the Maricopa County Attorney's Office would make this case a top priority, if only because bungling it would be a public relations catastrophe.

Because of Angela's activities with Students Against Drunk Driving, her death was reported on the front pages of the local dailies and on the evening news. Her story would have played well before a jury, too, but pretrial machinations dragged on for more than a year. When the final trial date drew near, the suspect fled.

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Amy Silverman is a two-time winner of the Arizona Press Club’s Journalist of the Year award. Her work has appeared on the radio show This American Life and in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Lenny Letter, and Brain, Child. She’s the co-curator of the live reading series Bar Flies, and a commentator for KJZZ, the NPR affiliate in Phoenix. Silverman is the author of the book My Heart Can’t Even Believe It: A Story of Science, Love, and Down Syndrome (Woodbine House 2016). Follow her on Instagram (@amysilverman), Twitter (@amysilvermanaz), and at amy-silverman.com.