Reliving a horror barely does justice to memory of pair

November 24, 1996 1 Comment

Joe Cantlupe. The San Diego Union – Tribune. San Diego, Calif.: Nov 24, 1996. pg. B.3

CORRECTION | Due to incorrect information from sources, a Sunday column misstated the age and residence of the daughter of a woman killed in a crash authorities said was caused by a drunken driver. Angel New, the daughter of Angela Burpee, is 14 and lives in Lakeside. The San Diego Union-Tribune regrets the error. (961128, B- 2:1,3,5,6,7; B-3:2,4)

The wreaths are gone now. The small patches of color left as a temporary tribute to two women who died at the side of Mission Gorge Road have vanished forever.

But the memory never dies, not for me, as I make my routine turn from Jackson Drive.

I can’t help but look over. I see the horrific image of a young man consoling Angela Burpee lying on the ground, her brown hair matted in blood, her voice staccato as she tries to catch her breath.

Angela had stumbled out of a nearly unrecognizable blue Chevy pickup that smashed full speed into a van at the intersection.

“Tell my kids I love them,” said Angela, who was only 36. “I know I’m going to die.”

It was Sept. 30, 1995, and the sunlight soon became a shroud over Cowles Mountain in San Carlos.

Moments earlier, it had seemed like a great day. I was heading westbound on Mission Gorge Road, my small Subaru wagon filled with the chatter of my two little boys replaying a day at the beach.

Coming toward the intersection from the opposite direction was a pickup driven by Damon Gregory Jaffe, with two passengers inside, Burpee and Pamela Jean Hanford. They, too, had wound up their day at the beach. And Jaffe was drunk.

My sons fell asleep as I pulled into the left-turn lane for Jackson Drive, where Beverly Smith’s Toyota van was already stopped at the light.

After the light turned green, Smith gingerly turned her 1993 Previa into the intersection, the slope of the street blinding her to what I could see.

It was Jaffe’s pickup, speeding and weaving around stopped cars, and heading for the intersection. He would not stop. My right foot froze above the accelerator as I watched Smith make the left turn onto Jackson Drive.

Metal tore into metal. I knew someone was going to die at that spot.

Someone did. Two someones.

But not Damon Jaffe, the 29-year-old drunken driver.

At 39, Hanford died of massive head injuries. Angela Denise Burpee lived an hour after the 6 p.m. accident. She died of internal injuries at a hospital.

Beverly Smith had severely injured her shoulder, but survived thanks to an air bag in her van.

Jaffe clung to life, wavering in and out of a coma for about two months. During that time, Deputy District Attorney Jill Schall began building a case against him. She had plenty of witnesses and had one great piece of evidence, the document that said Jaffe had an blood-alcohol level of 0.14 percent, well over the legal limit.

Other felonies clung to Jaffe’s record, repeated instances of violence. And they had a common thread: booze and drugs.

A portrait emerged of the son of a former San Diego police officer. He drank his first beer at age 7. He got drunk several times a month. And he often ingested crystal methamphetamine.

In 1989, he shot his brother for the insult of pushing Jaffe’s face into a steaming bowl of macaroni. It was a mess. But guess who helped Jaffe clean up the place? Angela Burpee.

Angela — the woman who wore a tattoo “99 percent Angel” — continued to be Jaffe’s friend even after he choked a co-worker almost to the point of unconsciousness in 1992.

Jaffe met Pamela Hanford at a Santee moving van company where they worked together.

Friends seemed to stick by Jaffe. They had hope. Even the man he choked later asked a judge to show Jaffe leniency. Jaffe apologized and the two hotheads “put the incident behind us,” the man wrote.

The system bent over backward for Jaffe, too.

He managed to avoid much jail time despite both violent felonies. After he was placed on probation in 1992 for the choking incident, he was ordered to “totally abstain from the use of alcohol,” court records show.

He could not.

“Dirty tests” — the court lingo for alcohol or drug abuse — forced Jaffe to go back to court in 1994. He was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment for violating probation.

Sentenced to three years, yes. Reality differed.

He was credited with 357 days in custody, then paroled.

As his parole ended in April 1995 — five months before the crash on Mission Gorge — he signed a statement promising not to drink.

“He wasn’t supposed to drink, never mind drink and drive,” prosecutor Schall said. Jaffe treated parole as “a joke,” she said.

When the families of Burpee and Hanford heard about his record, they were disgusted.

“I want to see him suffer in any way possible,” Pamela’s father said in an interview. “I tell you, I could kill him, I really could,” he said, his voice choked with emotion. “But it’s not in the books.”

Said Angela’s son: “He shouldn’t have been on the streets in the first place.”

Last week, Jaffe stood trial. He sat in a wheelchair, the use of his legs apparently his only long-term loss from the accident. His eyes were transfixed on witnesses. His long hair was shorn.

The suddenly clean-cut young man never took the stand, but his defense was basically this: I didn’t mean it.

The jury said no. He was convicted of two counts of gross manslaughter. As a repeat offender, he may be sentenced to 30 years in prison at hearing Jan. 7. Schall, whose office is adorned with symbols of the American flag, says “it’s in society’s interest” that Jaffe go to prison for a long time.

As the holidays approach, law-enforcement officials like Schall just wonder what havoc more drugs and booze will bring on the roads and elsewhere. Last year, between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, U.S. transportation officials reported that of 4,382 people who died in traffic-related accidents, 1,795 — or 41 percent — were in crashes involving alcohol.

For the Burpee and Hanford families, they are left with memories.

“She had a big heart; she’d give you anything,” said Pamela’s father, John Stamaris. Pamela was one of four children.

Pamela left two daughters, 14-year-old Desiree and 24-year-old Heidi, herself the mother of two. Pamela’s husband, Wayne, was shot to death 14 years ago.

She died 40 days shy of her 40th birthday.

A day after the accident, Pamela’s family put wreaths on the edge of the road in memory of both women. Pamela’s funeral drew a crowd.

“Angie, she didn’t have anybody,” Stamaris said, sadly.

Not quite.

Angela Burpee endured a broken marriage and lived in El Cajon with a brother. Her children were scattered out of state. A 12- year-old, Angel, lives in Nevada with Burpee’s ex-husband, while 20- year-old John resides in Washington.

Mother and son hadn’t seen each other since John’s high school graduation nearly two years ago. And now John Burpee realizes he’s lost the opportunity to renew their relationship.

But John knows this. In her life’s final moments, his mother thought of him and his sister. And she loved them.

And I know something, too. Two women died because of a drunken driver in an accident that hit home: It easily could have been my sons and me.

Credit: STAFF WRITER | Joe Cantlupe is an investigative reporter for the Union-Tribune. He testified in Jaffe’s trial.

Drunk Drivers
One Comments to “Reliving a horror barely does justice to memory of pair”
  1. Heidi Turner says:

    I am Pamela Hanford’s daughter and I would like to thank Mr. Joe Cantlupe for writing this and for testifying at the trial. I didn’t go to any of the trial proceedings because at the time I was so lost in my grief I couldn’t function.
    now it’s 16yrs later and the other night I am messing with my new droid cell phone & some how this pops up about my mom and Angie. It took me off guard, but I really needed to read this again when I wasn’t so lost in grief still.
    I always wanted to thank him and tell him how much this meant to me and that he would write this & testify to help put that man away. So I hope that somehow he gets this note from me…
    I Thank you with all my heart & sole!!!!!
    Luv H.Lu

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