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A year of sorrow

Jody Rice

Cindy Ferris spent her first-year wedding anniversary by herself. Wednesday marks another day that signifies loneliness for the 37-year-old. It’s a year to the day her husband died.

“There’s no aspect of my life it hasn’t touched,” she said.

Losing a loved one is hard enough, but to have the death be highly publicized takes away from the private nature of mourning.

“It’s like having someone break into your house and go through all your private things,” said Cindy Ferris about the death of her husband, Don, on Dec. 10, 1996.

She can’t bear to look at pictures of the couple on their Los Angeles honeymoon, she said. The keepsakes are held dear to her heart but kept far from her gaze.

“It just too painful,” she said, grasping the picture frames but avoiding their contents.

Don Ferris, 42, died when he was hit by a Jeep while he crossed North Carson Street the rainy December night. He was on his way back from a fast-food restaurant to the motel where he and Cindy were staying until they could find a permanent residence. They had plans to relocate to Carson City.

“When he got killed, we were new to the area,” she said. “It pretty much left me homeless. We didn’t have any friends or relatives here.”

Cindy’s personal tragedy turned into a public issue soon after. A Carson City attorney, Audrey Damonte, was accused of a crime in connection with the accident. She was later cleared, but not before the case became highly controversial.

“I would walk into a restaurant and people would be talking about it,” Cindy said. “People would speculate about the type of people we were.”

It made it hard to work in a store where newspapers were sold. People would make comments about the accident, which often appeared on the front page of newspapers. Not only did she not respond, she didn’t tell people who she was, she said.

She went back to using her maiden name on job applications so people couldn’t associate the two, she said. It was too hard.

“Everything about the case was unusual,” Cindy said. “For six months, I was like a hermit. I didn’t want people to recognize me. It was everywhere.”

The unusual circumstances surrounding the tragedy caught widespread and intensive media attention.

Immediately following the accident, a radio station broadcast the description of the vehicle involved because it had left the scene.

Hours later, Damonte, a member of a prominent Truckee Meadows family, turned herself in to authorities. Because of Damonte’s status, Cindy feared special treatment by the judicial system.

In February, a felony charge of leaving the scene of an accident causing a death was filed against Damonte by the Carson City District Attorney’s Office. Damonte was never accused of causing the accident. Don Ferris was intoxicated, wearing dark clothes and not in a crosswalk at the time of the accident, according to investigators.

In March, Justice of the Peace John Tatro dismissed the charge for lack of probable cause. The case was on again when a higher court ruled the lower court should not have dropped the charge.

Despite the publicity, Cindy stayed in Carson City to see the outcome of the court proceedings. It didn’t bring the news she wanted.

Finally, the case went to trial in October. A jury deadlocked on a verdict, but at the request of the defense and with no objection by the prosecution, a judge acquitted Damonte. Damonte has always maintained her innocence and testified she did not know she had hit a human being.

Now, Cindy said she is looking into the possibility of filing a civil suit.

“All of our dreams are lost. He was not just a partner, but my best friend,” she said.


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