‘What-ifs’ linger for parents of Juneau girl who died in alcohol-related crash

A procession of mourners embrace Abby Kelley’s moms, Cecelia Williams, left, and Christina Vazquez, after funeral services on Dec. 1 at the Tlingit and Haida Community Center in Juneau. Abby Kelley, 19, died Nov. 21 after the car she was riding in sped off the road. (Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

Funeral services were held this week in Juneau for 19-year-old Abby Kelley, who also went by Abby Williams-Kelley, and 15-year-old Keith Brososky Jr. Both died when the car they were in sped off the road the morning of Nov. 21.

The morning after the funeral, parents Cecelia Williams and Christina Vazquez reflected on their daughter’s life, and the turn it took in the year or so leading up to the crash. Flipping through photos of their daughter, her huge, beaming smile was a constant from a young age into her teens.

“She had dimples for days,” they both said.

Williams said she had a big voice, too.

“My sister used to babysit for her (and) me when I had to go to work and Abby was just a toddler,” Williams said. “But soon as she walked through the door, she’d be like, ‘Auntie Cam! Hi, Auntie Cam!’ And my sister would go right close to her, and Abby would still be talking loud. And my sister would be like, ‘Abby, I am right here. You don’t need to yell.’ ‘Oh, hi Auntie Cam!’”

Even on this day, the memory came with a chuckle of delight.

Related: Family members suspected and JPD confirms that alcohol was a factor in fatal Juneau car crash

Abby graduated from Yaaḵoosgé Daakahídi High School in 2017, a year early. Her diploma and Eagle-Wolf graduation sash are on wall in the living room, along with many family photos, school projects and artwork.

Vazquez said Abby was applying to colleges before she finished high school.

“Like, she was already on that road before she graduated,” Vazquez said.

“I mean, she was a great kid for her whole entire life,” Williams said. “We had normal obstacles to overcome with her, I guess you could say, as a teenager. But, like, towards the end of her graduation, she was a great kid, like, couldn’t ask for a better kid, you know?”

Vazquez remembered Abby’s attitude toward friends who drank in those days.

“She just chose to be more around her family than out doing things that her friends were doing. Stuff like drinking to her was — I mean, she used to say, ‘Oh, yeah, so-and-so’s drinking and they’re just so dumb.’”

“So this whole thing, it was just devastating,” Williams said. “It just seems like it happened so fast, so fast. And it got out of control so fast. Like, I just don’t even know how it happened.”

They tried talking things through with Abby. They got her into counseling briefly. They reported a store they suspected of selling booze to her daughter and other teenagers. And eventually, tough love.

Despite all that, Williams said Abby was descending into alcoholism.

“When you’re a child or whatever, you’re an adolescent trying to figure things out and figure out who you are — yeah, sure, you’re partying and you’re doing some things, but it’s not your everyday life,” Williams said. “And towards the end, this is what it became. It was her everyday life.”

A photo of Abby Kelley and a dreamcatcher hang on a wall in her family’s home in Juneau on Dec. 2. Her parents say that “she had dimples for days.” (Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

After the crash, a friend of Abby’s shared a series of videos from the night before and morning of the crash with her parents. They circulated through Snapchat and suggest the group of teenagers in the car was drinking heavily. There’s raucous laughing and yelling. One clip shows Abby and the others in the car. Someone’s holding what looks like a bottle of whiskey.

Text added to one clip asks something to the effect of, why aren’t we dead?

“Apparently, they almost crashed. That’s why the caption is that,” Williams said.

There’s a timestamp in the text.

“That’s minutes before the actual crash. Like, 20 minutes,” Vazquez said.

Impossible “what-ifs” plague Williams.

“Just wish that there was something else that I could have done,” she said. “If I did everything right or — I don’t know. Maybe if I wasn’t trying to be so tough on her, maybe this wouldn’t have happened? But I don’t know.”

Williams wants others to know to ask for help: “I just want to encourage other parents and their children: If you’re struggling with alcohol, don’t be scared to reach out, don’t be scared to admit it. And talk to whoever you can. … Don’t ever give up.”

On the 12th day after crash, Williams and Vazquez said they hadn’t heard from investigators yet. They planned to meet with lawyers to explore options.

Juneau Police Department spokesperson Erann Kalwara said the crash case is still being investigated. That means interviews and a search warrant on the car itself. She said there’s no set timeline, and she could not comment on if the liquor store that Cecelia Williams alluded to is being investigated or not.

The other two people who survived the car wreck remain hospitalized at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. A hospital spokesperson on Tuesday said 19-year-old Dylan Larsen is in serious condition in the intensive care unit, and 18-year-old Tyler Watkins is in satisfactory condition.

If someone you know is struggling with alcohol, you can reach out to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. In Juneau, they’re at 907-463-6817. More recovery resources in Juneau are available here.

Jeremy Hsieh is the deputy managing editor of the KTOO newsroom in Juneau. He’s a podcast fiend who’s worked in journalism since high school as a reporter, editor and television producer. He ran Gavel Alaska for 360 North from 2011 to 2016, and is big on experimenting with novel tools and mediums (including the occasional animated gif) to tell stories and demystify the news. Jeremy’s an East Coast transplant who moved to Juneau in 2008.

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