Voice of Victims: Zach Gonzalez

Three days after turning 15, Zach Gonzalez was killed by a drugged driver while riding his bike with his friends. The driver had Valium and cocaine in his system and five cocaine pipes in his vehicle that all tested positive. He was more concerned about getting his “oxys” (OxyContin) out of his car than the crash.

The police notified Zach’s aunt and legal guardian, Kelli Donlen, and told her he was killed at the scene. She wasn’t allowed to go to the site of the crash to confirm it was him. Kelli needed to see his body herself. She wanted to believe it was a mistake. It was Zach’s friend that had to confirm it was him.

Zach lost both of his parents by age 9. His father was killed by a substance-impaired driver at three years old. When he was 9, his mother passed away from leukemia. He moved in with his maternal uncle and aunt. For a while, he kept to himself; trying to make sense of all his loses. By his 15th birthday, he was coming out of his shell and beginning to enjoying life again. He celebrated his birthday at Disney World where he had a wonderful time. The day after they returned from Disney World, Zach was killed.

During the course of the police investigation, officers questioned whether the fact that Zach and his friends were on a non-pedestrian roadway, contributed to the crash. In Pennsylvania, to bring a charge of vehicular homicide, there needs to be proof that either a DUI or traffic violation was a direct and substantial factor in the death of the victim. The impaired driver was charged with DUI and Possession of Drug Paraphernalia. He was sentenced to one to six months in jail and released on probation after only serving one month. Since his release, he was arrested for being drunk in someone else’s car and plead guilty to Disorderly Practice; not within violation of his parole.

Zach’s family and friends still mourn his death. Their tears and heartache will never go away. They struggle with the fact that the man who killed Zach should have never been driving. They struggle with the lax DUI laws in Pennsylvania. Kelli struggles with never having the chance to say goodbye. She does her best to remember all the good times with Zach but finds herself always thinking of the “firsts” that he will never experience such as prom, graduation, college, driving, marriage and having children. She tries to stay busy; sharing his memory keeps her going.

Zach was active on the wrestling team at his high school. His family founded The Zachary Gonzalez Scholarship Foundation in his honor. Every year they give out two $1000 scholarships to graduating students on the wrestling team. They also annually participate in Walk Like MADD® Philadelphia as Team Zach. Kelli volunteers with MADD, speaking at Victim Impact Panels (VIP). Kelli advocates for changes in legislation in Pennsylvania with Pennsylvania Parents Against Impaired Driving (PAPAID). Kelli does all this in loving memory of Zach, forever fifteen.


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