Romeo Giovanni Chavez
July, 2003 – May 29, 2005
My name is Yadira Rodriguez. I live in Phoenix Arizona. I am 30 years old and the proud mother of three beautiful boys. Eric is 9, Angelo 4, and the baby Giovanni would have been 2 in July of 2005. My 10 year old stepson Juandre also lived with us.
May 29, 2005 is a day that no one could ever imagine. We packed up our family for a trip full of fun, family gathering, and memories. You never think this could end up a nightmare. We were a happy family with four very happy boys. We were always keeping them busy. Traveling, exploring, making memories. We were always up to something. Just in the last couple of months before our tragedy we had went to Disneyland, the San Diego Zoo, the Phoenix Zoo and on this weekend we were going to camp in Sedona Arizona for Memorial Day weekend. As we had done a dozen times before, the whole family participated. Grandma, Aunts, Uncles, cousins. We all went. And we always had a great time. But on this day our whole life changed.
Giovanni had been the first to wake that morning and was very excited. He jumped around waiting to get put in his car seat at 5:30 a.m. The whole family was together, packed up ready to go, like so many times before. Even my sister and my nephew Jeffrey were riding along with us. Five happy boys in the car. Singing to the Wiggles video playing on the DVD screen. Lots of noise; it was great. I still hear those noises and long for their joy again. That ignorance of how short life really is. Giovanni was so smart. He seemed to absorb everything he heard or saw’ even what he tasted. He loved food; he'd try anything. All the great Mexican dishes, anything with flavor. He wasn't a fan of fast food except french fries. We had left so early so he didn't get his favorite we stopped at McDonalds. He ate up his food so fast I watched him eat and even laughed at him. Afterwards he begged me to take him out of his seat. He'd hold his arms out to me and say "Pease Mom down" I wanted to get him out so badly. My husband said no and when I told him no, he grunted at me. We repeated this a couple times till we arrived. But my husband said it’s better for him to cry and be safe.
We had just arrived, 3 vehicles in total so far. And two more were not far behind. We had left about 7:00 am and arrived about 10:00 am. We arrived at the Sedona campsite to find it was at full capacity. It was Sunday. We almost left to look somewhere else, but my mother and I decided to walk around and see if anyone was leaving. We found an empty space and two spaces in front where the people were packing up. We confirmed it with them and decided on those three spaces. We waited at the empty space where we gathered and talked about where everyone would park and set up their tents. My husband and I decided to set up at the one we were at. So we began to unload, and my husband and stepfather started working on the tent. The kids began to run and play immediately, except for Giovanni my youngest. I had placed him on the picnic table next to where I was so I could keep my eye on him. He kept calling for me to put him down. The other sites had become available. My mother and my Aunt moved their trucks into the other two spaces. After, we discussed that maybe my Aunt should have left her truck in our space and left that one open for the other two vehicles we were expecting. After the discussion we returned to unpacking. My mother began a fire to cook and all the kids went to her campsite. Only Giovanni remained, still on the table. I'd walk over to kiss him and bribe him with toys so he'd stay put. But he kept insisting to get down. After spilling a drink on the table I went ahead and put him down. He went straight over to the tent to help Daddy. He even handed Daddy the hammer when they asked for it. But then it was time for the tent to go up and Giovanni was on top of it. My husband told me to get him. I was still unpacking. I realized he needed to be entertained and watched over. So I got him by the hand and said "come on daddy let's go for a walk". I walked him across to where all the kids were. (with my mom, my sister and my Aunt) There was a total of 10 kids running around. My 14 year old cousin was sitting on the tailgate of my mom’s truck with one of the other kids. So I asked if she would watch him. That moment HAUNTS me because even after she said yes, I began to walk away and then stopped. I looked back and saw she was just sitting there not looking at him. And so I asked again "******* are you really gonna watch him?" She said, “yes,” and then she called him over. Giovanni walked to her and she picked him up. I turned back around and walked away. I never would have thought that was the last time I would see him alive. Only minutes later 10 maybe 15 minutes later I was putting a table together when HORRIFIC screaming began. I still hear the screams when I close my eyes. They were like from a horror movie when an animal or monster attacks. And that’s exactly what I thought it was. An animal. I ran over as fast as I could. I was so scared I couldn't focus. Everyone had terror in their faces. I saw my husband on his knees, slamming his fist into his own face. Saying "NO, NO NOT BABY.." I turned to see what he was looking at and it was my baby in my mother’s arms. His body dangling in her arms and both so full of blood....My body and my mind went into a state of terror. A dream like feeling….no a nightmare. I couldn't feel my feet touching the ground anymore. I took him from her and all I could do was scream. My stepfather put us in his truck and manically drove up the mountain for help. I looked down at Giovanni and there was rocks imbedded in his little face. I pulled them out asking him to breath, as I put my lips to his. The screams could still be heard in the background. They echoed through the mountain. He honked the horn as we swerved in and out of traffic at full speed. At some point we pulled off to the side of the road. There was a ranger and other people. A lady in pink, I think just a camper. She took him from me and gently placed him on the ground and attempted CPR.
But I knew from the moment I took him in my arms, there was no life in his eyes. They were open. His face and his head so badly damaged. I still can't get that horrible image out of my head. I kept screaming. My husband became sick. What happened I still didn't know. The air-vac helicopter arrived. They covered my view so I wouldn't see. The police were asking questions. I started to hear my Aunt’s name and that she didn't see him. Air-vac took my baby and they wouldn't let me go with him. An officer walked over to us to give us information. What he began to say I didn't want to hear, so I ran back into the truck and locked myself in it. I went numb after that and the world shut itself out it seemed. Then we arrived at the hospital and were taken into that little private room in the emergency waiting room area. My family was all in there; everyone in tears. Then a very nice lady and the Doctor came in. The Doctor couldn't even begin to talk when he fell to his knee in tears. He just covered his face and said "I'm sorry....." His sympathy was genuine. The impact of what he saw was obvious. I began to call out and pled for my grandmother to take him; to watch him for me. The nice lady prayed while I screamed for my baby, my grandmother, GOD....."He wasn't baptized." The lady told me the priest was on his way and we could do it. The doctor took us to Giovanni. They had wrapped him up just like a newborn in a white blanket. All I could see was his beautiful face. I picked him up and rocked him in my arms. My husband couldn't even stand. The nice lady kept praying and the Doctor kept crying. The Doctor tried telling us he didn't suffer that he had died instantly. It was all cranial damage and his chest had been crushed. A priest came in and told me we could do the baptism. My stepfather and mother asked to be godparents. As everyone prayed my husband and I just talked to him and kissed him. I tried to absorb the feel of his skin, his face. Holy water was poured on his little forehead. And what seemed like all too soon he was taken from me. Flagstaff Medical had invited us to stay at the Manor house. We had to wait 3 days for the release of his body to take him home to Phoenix. In those 3 days I found out exactly what happened.
When I left Giovanni with my cousin the kids were playing tag. Giovanni found his way to the rear of my Aunt’s truck. The previous campers had left some dog food in a bowl and he was playing with it. My Aunt had decided to move her truck back to my space. She saw Giovanni playing with the dog food, so she told him not to and took him by the hand and walked him away from the truck. She told him (an 18 month old baby) "stay here.." gave him a kiss and headed back to the truck. He obviously followed her because when she made it in her truck he was in front of her truck. She never looked around. She got right in, and went forward. My oldest son and a couple of the other kids viewed Giovanni following my Aunt. He had stopped to pick up a stick and play with it. They said he got startled when he heard the truck, tripped and that’s when he was hit. The front passenger tire went right over him. She had only gone forward enough to kill him.
If she had just handed him to someone. Back to me. If she had just put him in the truck with her. But worst of all….if she had just announced she was moving the truck and asked all the adults to look around for all the kids. There were children everywhere, not just ours, but other campers. It all seems so easily preventable. Just a second look or a hesitation before moving the truck would have made all the difference in saving his life. I'm always thinking about all of the “what ifs.” But nothing can bring back my precious boy. So many ignorant people tell me, ”you should have been watching him; or were you guys drinking?” meaning it would have never happened to them. And I understand. I would not have been able to sympathize before. We were the parents that drove the kids to the park so they could ride their bikes because we did not trust our neighborhood. We were aware of that danger. My husband would put the kids in the car just to move it out of the driveway. I searched the whole city just to find a wagon with seatbelts in it so the boys couldn't climb out. We were the careful paranoid parents…. and this happened to us. We will forever miss the boy with the big personality. With his large vocabulary and always had much to say. He always called me "Mom" never mommy. Dancing and twirling around every night in my arms before bed. He was my last vision before sleeping. and my first one when I woke. He always greeted me with kisses. Giovanni was the baby brother that loved all the attention from his big brothers. He was always trying so hard to keep up with them that it made him appear older than he was. That was part of the mistake he wasn't looked at like a baby because he was so mature. I constantly had to remind people of his age, and that he was still a baby. He always wanted to go ‘ba-bye.’ Every morning he was up with his brothers. He'd bring me his shoes first thing so he'd be ready to go. He'd grab an empty lunchbox and follow his brothers out the door. I had to hold my keys and tippy- toe out the door so he wouldn't come running after me. And still I would peek through the window to make sure he hadn’t followed me. So when my Aunt told him "STAY RIGHT HERE" I know he was thinking, no way, I wanna go bye-bye too. And for that he will never have the life he deserved. But it was an accident....YES I hear this every day. He was happy, healthy, and mostly very much loved. And is now desperately missed forever. My heart is in constant heart ache. Death is a reality; but losing a child is not in a mother’s programming. I will never be the same. And the new awareness to these tragedies will never leave me. I see danger everywhere I look now, and it saddens me. I hope that all that read this remember my little "Romeo Giovanni" at the next family gathering at the park, camping, parking lots, and in the driveway. Think of these stories and look around at all the kids you love…..look at all the cars you’re not paying attention to.
And just imagine......................