CEDAR RAPIDS — Verna Kuehl became a member of a “club” that she never signed up for when her daughter was killed March 18, 2012, in a car crash caused by her boyfriend.
Kuehl, of Marion, became one of the family members who have lost a loved one in a violent death. Her daughter, Angela Kuehl, 29, of Alburnett, was the passenger of Jermonda Pledge, 29, of Cedar Rapids, who was driving 75 mph when he ran a red light and lost control of his vehicle near the intersection of County Home Road and C Avenue Extension.
Angela Kuehl was ejected from the car after it flipped over several times before landing in a ditch, according to court documents. She died at the scene.
Kuehl said not everyone experiences losing a child in this way and having to go through the court process to find some sort of justice. Pledge, who pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide — reckless driving and driving while barred, was sentenced in 2014 to 12 years in prison.
“He didn’t serve that time ... he was out after four-and-a-half years,” Kuehl said. “My child’s life was worth four-and-a-half years. The judicial system is not the same across the board.”
Kuehl said nobody understood how she felt until she met others who have lost a child or other loved ones in a “horrific, traumatic event.” She found a support group through the Survivors program of Horizons.
“They are the most amazing group of people I’ve ever met in my life,” Kuehl said. “The advocates have great compassion and empathy, and they are knowledgeable about the judicial system. They act as the liaisons between us and the prosecutors and law enforcement. Most importantly — they let you know you’re not alone.”
The advocates with the program, which started in 1991, help family members and friends who have lost someone to homicide and vehicular homicide. The program provides services in 14 Iowa counties.
Survivors’ advocates provide emergency crisis support, act as liaisons between the victims’ families and law enforcement and county attorney’s offices, support the families throughout trials and sentencing processes, assist in filing for financial compensation for crime-related expenses, and make referrals to other agencies for needed services.
The program will have its fourth annual Survivors Benefit on Friday. The organization receives limited funding each year from a matching grant and must raise $83,485 this year, said Elizabeth Lucas, manager of Horizons community-based programs. The program relies on in-kind donations throughout the year and the annual fundraiser.
The advocates have served over 1,300 individuals in the past year and have been involved in homicide cases of local, state and national interest, Lucas said.
The benefit this year includes a social hour with dinner, followed by a program, raffle and auction.
Stacey Walker, a Linn County supervisor, will be the master of ceremonies for the second year. The main speaker will be Deb Canby, who received support from Survivors this year when her niece, Mallery Doak, 23, was fatally stabbed Jan. 22 in Burlington.
Guests can buy a raffle ticket for a cash prize and bid on auction items donated by businesses and individuals, Lucas said. Items up for bid include University of Iowa wrestling tickets, a Monticello kayaking trip, jewelry, spa products, gift cards and various tickets for other events.
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If you go
What: Fourth annual Horizons’ Survivors Benefit
When: 6 to 10 p.m. Sept. 6
Where: Touch of Class Catering, 5977 Mount Vernon Rd. SE, Cedar Rapids
Cost: $50 individual tickets