MERIDIAN, Idaho -- The best friend of a young woman killed in a two-car accident is moving forward to honor her friend and prevent another tragedy by taking action, planning a benefit. Police say the accident was likely caused by a driver who had been drinking.
One week ago, the two-car crash killed three people in Garden City. Police say a driver veered into oncoming traffic and collided head-on with another car. Inside that second car were three young women. 22-year-old Jamie Taylor of Eagle and 21-year-old Danielle Vacca of Meridian died as a result. Taylor's funeral was Thursday, and Vacca was laid to rest on Tuesday.
Police say the person who caused the crash, 25-year-old Noah Willhide of Boise, had just left a party. Witnesses there say he had been drinking. Vacca's best friend, Caitlin Shannahan-Newton, said knowing that made her angry.
"I'm so shocked at how it happened because it's just something to say no to so easily and just not do," Shannahan-Newton said. "Just have that willpower not to drive when you're drinking."
It has not been confirmed whether the driver police say caused last week's crash was drunk at the time. Police have said they suspect he had been impaired by drugs and/or alcohol. Garden City investigators are still waiting Noah Willhide's blood tests to come back.
'She was just the best friend I could have asked for.'
For eight years, Caitlin Shannahan-Newton and Danielle Vacca were best friends. They met at school.
"We instantly became friends," Shannahan-Newton said. "I knew I wanted to be her friend from the moment I heard her laugh. She was always really carefree and always happy."
Vacca moved to Salt Lake City a few years ago to study psychology and gender studies at the University of Utah. Even though they were apart, Shannahan-Newton said the two kept in touch and she'd visited Vacca over the summer for her bachelorette party.
"She was there on my wedding day, and held my hand, and told me I looked pretty. She's just been there for me through thick and thin," Shannahan-Newton said.
'I was just shocked. I just couldn't believe it.'
In the early morning hours of the Friday after Thanksgiving, everything changed when a wrong-way driver smashed into a car Vacca was riding in. Shannahan-Newton had been planning to visit Vacca Friday morning before she caught a flight back to Salt Lake City.
"I texted her like, 'Hey, I'm going to come see you at like 7:00', and I never heard from her. I found out at like 10:00, and it was... it's still a shock to lose your best friend to that. I just can't believe it."
Adding to her shock, Shannahan-Newton heard the news that the driver of the other car was suspected by police of drinking and driving.
"This is a choice that is made," Shannahan-Newton said. "And I feel like it's an easy choice to say no to."
'This is just what she'd do for everyone else.'
"Dani was a psychology major and she wanted to help people and that was her dream and I want her dreams to come true and so we just thought, let's make her dream come true. Let's help people like she would," Shannahan-Newton said.
To help prevent drunk driving accidents, Shannahan-Newton, her dad, and another friend are planning a benefit called "Lose your keys". It means, if you're drinking, get rid of your car keys.
"You can give them to somebody who can take care of them. Just be responsible and lose your keys," Shannahan-Newton said.
Shannahan-Newton wants to gather law enforcement and people who have been impacted by drunk drivers to show potential drunk drivers just what's at stake, that it could be their family or friends who get hurt.
'This is an epidemic.'
"This is an epidemic, and something needs to be done We need to challenge the bars, we need to challenge our lawmakers to see how we can prevent this because this is just too wrong of a way for two beautiful young women to die," Shannahan-Newton said.
Shannahan-Newton and the others she's working with are moving quickly. Because her friend's accident happened after a holiday night, she wants to hold this benefit before Christmas while students are still in town.
The only survivor of last week's crash, 22-year-old Rebecca Cross of Eagle, is still in the hospital in Seattle. Cross was initially listed in critical condition after the accident, though she is now expected to recover according to Shannahan-Newton's information.
How to help
If you're interested in helping with the benefit, you can email Caitlin Shannahan-Newton at email@example.com
Shannahan-Newton also says a donations fund has been set up by police for Rebecca Cross at the Home Federal Bank to help her family pay for medical bills. Donations can be taken to any Home Federal Bank.