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Reminders Against Reckless Driving Resonate with Teens at Breanna Rodriguez’s Memorial

With hundreds of kids at Santa Maria service, girl’s parents urge them to learn lesson from her tragic car crash

Isabel Rodriguez talks about her daughter, Breanna, a Righetti High School senior who died from injuries suffered in a Jan. 30 car crash. She had a specific message for the hundreds of teenagers who attended Saturday’s memorial service at Pacific Christian Center in Santa Maria: “Whether it’s drinking, texting or even racing, it’s not OK. ... Let my daughter’s life encourage you. But let her death educate you.” Click to view larger
Isabel Rodriguez talks about her daughter, Breanna, a Righetti High School senior who died from injuries suffered in a Jan. 30 car crash. She had a specific message for the hundreds of teenagers who attended Saturday’s memorial service at Pacific Christian Center in Santa Maria: “Whether it’s drinking, texting or even racing, it’s not OK. ... Let my daughter’s life encourage you. But let her death educate you.” (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

[Click here for a related Noozhawk photo gallery.]

Through laughter and tears, mourners celebrated the life of a free-spirited, God-worshipping, fun-loving 17-year-old Saturday, eight days after she died in a Santa Maria car crash.

But Breanna Rodriguez’s parents each reminded the hundreds of teenagers who had gathered at Pacific Christian Center for the two-hour service to use the tragedy as a lesson about the dangers of driving recklessly.

“Whether it’s drinking, texting or even racing, it’s not OK,” Isabel Rodriguez said. “I have now learned this in the most horrific way possible. I’m asking you to make a difference in how people think, in how people perceive fun. Be that strong person who is not afraid to speak up when you sense something is not right.

“Let my daughter’s life encourage you. But let her death educate you,” she added, as those in the sanctuary stood up and applauded her remarks.

Rodriguez’s dad, Rene, echoed the message after sharing about their father-daughter tradition of stopping for a McDonald’s sweet tea before school, the reason he explained the girl was so cheerful early in the morning.

He urged the youths to resist the lure to be the “cool kid” while driving.

“My daughter did that that night and it cost her her life,” he said. “I will never be able to walk her down the aisle. But you know what? In honor of her, I hope you young kids really, really, really think when you’re behind that wheel, because I would hate for any parent here today to feel the pain that me, Isabel and my boys feel.

“It’s not a good feeling,” he said, as those in attendance again arose in applause.

Rodriguez​, a Righetti High School senior, died from injuries she received when her Ford Focus slammed into a light pole on East Donovan Road the night of Jan. 30. Two of her four passengers were injured.

Santa Maria police said Rodriguez and a 17-year-old boy driving another car were racing through the neighborhood at speeds in excess of 60 mph when she lost control. Although the two vehicles didn’t collide, the other driver has been charged with two felonies.

Although he has been confined to house arrest, the boy was allowed to attend Saturday’s memorial service — at the request of Isabel Rodriguez, who had attended his court hearing and had asked the judge to grant him mercy. The Pioneer Valley High School student sat between his parents in the balcony of the church.

Signs of Rodriguez’s energetic personality appeared at a young age, her dad recalled, noting that as a 1-year-old she escaped her crib, unable to be contained even then.

“At that point, I knew Breanna was not going to sit still anywhere,” he said.

Her parents noted their daughter loved rain, so it was fitting that her memorial was held on such a damp day.

“Out of everything remember her compassion,” Isabel Rodriguez added.

Through a video and in comments made at the podium, friends recalled Rodriguez’s infectious smile, happy spirit, signature brownies, selfless nature, generous personality and amazing spirit.

Her pastor, Phillip “J.R.” Reyes from Full Gospel Tabernacle of Nipomo, remembered the “beautiful young lady who absolutely was in love with her God.”

“She was one filled with wisdom beyond her years,” he said.

Righetti High English teacher David Preston echoed that comment, noting he had learned a new word while reading Rodriguez’s blog when she used “sternutation,” or the act of sneezing.

The girl had a natural gift for listening, he added.

“She didn’t just listen with her ears,” Preston said. “She listened with her heart. She listened with her mind.”

Rodriguez had been organizing a senior trip to Yosemite National Park for Memorial Day weekend. Fundraisers are being planned so students can attend for free, and the effort has drawn global attention, Preston said.

“In true Breanna style, everyone is going big,” he added.

A video of friends reminiscing about the girl was shown during the service. Just hours after the crash last weekend, her friend, Nikoles Koyama, set up her desk in Waller Park to record friends’ memories of her.

At the time of her death, Rodriguez was working on a video against reckless driving, a project Koyama vowed to complete. As the recorded remembrances of her filled the church, sounds of sniffling mixed with laughter.

“There’s a lot of good people, but you were a great person,” one girl said.

The video ended with a reminder to “Be Safe. Drive Smart.”

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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