UPDATE8-29: Was this hit-and-run death a hate crime?
"Let's just run them over."
That's the last thing Shala Parker says she heard from the three strangers in the Burger King parking lot before a green Cadillac DeVille plowed over her mother, 49-year-old Lilian Verdonkschot.
Parker rushed to her mother's side. "She was staring up at me," Parker remembers about her mom, who worked as a baker for Panera Bread Company. "I kissed her on the cheek and told her I loved her." Parker's mother died hours later.
The alleged driver of that vehicle, Nadine Montoya, appeared in Denver District Court on Wednesday for an advisement hearing charges of first-degree murder. The grand jury indictment on Montoya issued two weeks ago paints a chaotic series of events that led to the deadly incident at 2:30 a.m. on May 29. While Parker declined to describe the details of what happened that night on advice from her attorneys, according to the indictment, it all began over a cigarette.
Parker her mom, and Parker's friend, Jennifer Goodrich, had been at JR's Bar & Grill in Denver for a birthday party when they decided to grab food from the Burger King drive-through at 6th Avenue and Broadway. Parker was driving. The green Cadillac pulled in behind them, driven by Montoya, 26, with Briana Garcia sitting shotgun and Damian Saiz in the back.
The trio had been at a nearby house party, where Montoya had consumed brandy and straight vodka, investigators say. While waiting in the drive-through, Saiz twice got out of the Cadillac to ask Parker for a cigarette, only to be told they didn't have any. After Saiz returned to the Cadillac, Montoya and Garcia began calling the other women names. After receiving their food and telling employees they might have to call police, Parker heard glass breaking against her car, so she pulled into a parking space to look for damage.
The Cadillac pulled up, Montoya and Garcia got out, and soon both sets of women were in a physical fight. A male acquaintance Parker had met earlier at JR's happened to drive into the lot and tried to help them, but he was confronted by Saiz. When the fight ended, Verdonkschot and her daughter were trying to get back into their car. That's when Parker heard those words.
"Let's just run them over."
With Montoya behind the wheel, the Cadillac roared forward and pinned Verdonkschot between the two cars. The Cadillac backed up and Verdonkschot fell to the ground. A Burger King employee who had come outside says he heard the roar of an engine before the Cadillac ran over Verdonkschot's body, crushing her chest and back, and took off down 6th Avenue.
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As police and ambulances responded, Parker could only try to comfort her mother. "I told her she was going to be fine, everything was going to be fine," she says. "That was the last time I spoke to her."
Police ran the license plate number provided by witnesses, which showed the Cadillac registered to Nadine Montoya. But investigators also noticed that the car had been stopped two weeks earlier after it had been "reported to have been used in an attempt to run a woman over in an alley," according to a May 30 affidavit. The female that incident listed was Dawn Gonzales, whose photo was tentatively ID'd by Parker as the driver who ran over her mother. The 23-year-old was quickly arrested and charged, only to be released two days later when police issued a search warrant for the cell phone records of Nadine Montoya's mother. After three weeks on the run, Montoya turned herself in to Westminster police. Her arraignment has been scheduled for October 16.
Parker says it's not only her and her brother who lost their mother, but all of her friends who called Verdonkschot "mom," too. She was the type who loved to be around other people. "My mother never had a single enemy," Parker says. "She didn't deserve to have her life taken away from her, and that I will never understand."