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Crash survivor finding strength

A woman whose mother and sister died has waited for justice. When charges were dropped, she was angry but determined to look to the future.

By CARRIE JOHNSON, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 7, 2002


GAINESVILLE -- Alicia Kimbrell was running out the door to take a final exam when the telephone rang.

It was a lawyer from the State Attorney's Office, and the message was unsettling.

"She said, "I can't tell you what's going on but you should be available tomorrow at 3 p.m. for a phone conference,"' Kimbrell recalled.

The 22-year-old University of Florida student's heart sank. She had been waiting nearly three years for the trial of Misty Lynn David, the woman accused of killing her mother and sister in a car wreck. Not another delay, she thought.

"It's bad news, isn't it?" Kimbrell asked.

"Well, it isn't good," the lawyer replied.

The following afternoon, Kimbrell curled up in bed with her cell phone. She was stunned by the news: Prosecutors said they couldn't prove David was the driver of the Jeep Cherokee that smashed into the 1998 Saturn sedan carrying Dixie Kimbrell and her 13-year-old daughter, Kimberly.

The charges were dropped. There would be no trial.

"I thought I was going to throw up," said Kimbrell, who was driving the Saturn that night. Her legs and midsection were badly bruised in the crash.

"You feel completely out of control."

Now the clock is ticking. The statute of limitations expires Aug. 21, three years to the day after the wreck. If no one is charged by then, the case will remain officially unsolved forever.

For Kimbrell, it means all she has endured -- the depositions, the meetings with attorneys, the anxiety -- will be for nothing. No one will pay for taking away her mother and sister and leaving her alone in the world.

But while she's angry and frustrated, Kimbrell is also looking to the future. She's scheduled to graduate in December with a degree in television and film production. After working on two films during her college years, Kimbrell plans to move to San Francisco after graduating and break into the behind-the-scenes side of the movie business.

"I want people to know that I'm okay," Kimbrell said. "(The wreck) was part of my life but it's not my entire life. I have school and I have friends and I have work ... I'm still living my life."

* * *

It's noon on the Fourth of July and Kimbrell is positively giddy. She was just hired as a script supervisor for an upcoming feature film called The Brother of Shoalin, an independent action film that will shoot in Gainesville and Orlando this summer.

She just had time for a quick lunch before driving to Jacksonville to select bridesmaids dresses for a friend's wedding.

"I get such a rush from the fast-paced work," Kimbrell said as she picked at a grilled chicken sandwich. "Every once and a while I look around the set and think, "This is really cool."'

It was her mother, a popular school secretary at Citrus Springs Elementary, who taught Kimbrell the value of hard work. When Kimbrell wanted a car, her mother told her to start looking for work.

Kimbrell remembers working three jobs one summer to earn money: teaching swimming lessons, snapping family portraits at Sears and serving hamburgers at Wendy's.

Dixie Kimbrell always insisted her daughters become self-sufficient. Kimbrell remembered calling home in tears from Orlando, where she was attending Valencia Community College before transferring to UF. She was upset because she was lost and got on the wrong bus.

"Well, just cross the street and take the other bus," Dixie Kimbrell told her daughter.

Those lessons in resourcefulness have been essential. Kimbrell's father, Bob, died of cancer in 1986. Her other sister, Sarah, moved to San Jose, Calif. shortly after the wreck.

Kimbrell was on her own as she registered for classes, arranged for financial aid and helped shepherd the case against David through the judicial process.

She still bristles at the memory of her deposition, where she was questioned on everything from the date of her last speeding ticket to the shape of the Cherokee's headlights.

"It's like, they're not worthy of having me relive that accident," Kimbrell said. "Why should I have to tell it to them?"

Most unnerving was the statement she overheard as she was leaving that day: David's lawyer said his client wasn't driving the night of the crash.

* * *

After an 11-month investigation, Misty Lynn David, 25, was charged with two counts of driving under the influence-manslaughter and one count of driving while intoxicated-causing great bodily injury. If convicted, she could have faced life in prison.

The accident occurred about 2:15 a.m. on County Road 488 and Diamond T Lane, about a mile east of U.S. 19.

Kimbrell was returning from a summer job as a counselor at a camp in Connecticut. She asked if she could drive the Saturn when her mother and sister picked her up at the Tampa airport.

Nearing Crystal River, they got on CR 488, a road they traveled almost daily. They entered a sharp bend that Dixie Kimbrell had always called dead man's curve.

There, near Diamond T Lane, the Florida Highway Patrol says David crossed the center line in her sport-utility vehicle and collided with the Saturn.

David was never accused of being legally drunk at the time of the crash. Tests showed she had a blood alcohol level of 0.011, a very small amount that means she probably had less than one drink in her system.

But prosecutors said David had ingested prescription medicine, including Xanax, while at Club Excess and Club Bubba earlier that evening that caused her to be impaired.

Two of the people in the Jeep Cherokee, Richard Busby and Jose Menendez, initially told police David was driving at the time of the crash. But in pretrial interviews, the two men changed their stories and said they couldn't be sure who was behind the wheel.

The fourth person in the Jeep that night, Crystal McClure, said she had consumed alcohol and the prescription drug Xanax earlier in the evening and had no recollection of the events that led to the crash.

Also, at least one person has stepped forward to accuse Busby of driving the Jeep Cherokee. Bryan Witty, a Crystal River resident who said he is friends with both Busby and David, told lawyers during an interview that Busby was allowing David to take the blame for the crash.

Investigators searched for other clues that could prove whether David was in the driver's seat. But a search for DNA evidence proved fruitless, and physical reconstruction of the vehicle didn't positively identify a specific person as the driver, according to Chief Assistant State Attorney Ric Ridgway.

Ridgway said there is still an open investigation into the case. The counts against David could be refiled, or someone else could be charged. But Kimbrell isn't optimistic.

"Every minute that goes by, I'm thinking, "tick, tick, tick,"' she said. "They told me this would be over by the time I graduated. That I would graduate and I would have closure and I could start my life. But that's not what's happening.

"It just doesn't seem fair that no one has to pay. I mean, that car didn't drive itself that night."

* * *

Abbi Schwartz describes her childhood friend Kimbrell as the strongest person she knows.

"She's amazing," Schwartz said. "I think if that had happened to me, I would have just died."

That's not to say Kimbrell hasn't had weak moments. There have been countless teary conversations with friends and days when she couldn't face answering the door or the telephone.

But a trip halfway around the world changed her outlook.

Dixie Kimbrell promised her daughters a special vacation when they turned 21. Sarah chose Paris. Alicia wanted Australia and New Zealand.

After the accident, Kimbrell wrote off the trip. She couldn't face going without her mother.

But after turning 21, Kimbrell changed her mind. She saved her money, bought a ticket and spent three weeks exploring Auckland, Sydney and other cities.

Kimbrell called the trip liberating.

"I felt like I shouldn't be there. There were so many reasons I shouldn't have been able to take this trip -- physically, financially, emotionally. But I did it and I'm okay and I'm going to be able to do this," she said.

Kimbrell returned to Gainesville energized and determined to pull her life together. She went on a diet and dropped 45 pounds. She felt in control of her life again.

She has little sympathy for David, an Inverness waitress. If David is not responsible for the deaths, she knows who is, Kimbrell said.

"You are the company you keep," Kimbrell said. "I wake up every day proud of the people I'm friends with. And if I had screwed up that badly, they wouldn't cover up for me."

She wants people to know she hasn't fallen apart. As her mother always said, success is the best revenge and Kimbrell feels like she's succeeding.

Mostly she just has questions. And without benefit of a trial, many of them may never be answered.

"If this doesn't work out, life will go on. But I will have lost a lot of faith in the people who are supposed to keep us safe in Crystal River," Kimbrell said.

-- Crime reporter Carrie Johnson can be reached at 860-7309 or cjohnson@sptimes.com.

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