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Mother stoic as she grieves daughter’s death

William Ferchland, Tahoe Daily Tribune

Marissa Bassett woke up at 5:30 a.m. to get ready for her first day at South Tahoe High School. She had her clothes picked out, but changed her shirt twice at the last minute. She chose one of three skateboards.

Her mother, Teddi, said goodbye at 6:45 a.m., seeing her leave the house for a bus stop on the corner of Eloise Avenue and Fifteenth Street. Bassett also had a son starting middle school Tuesday morning.

When she heard the sirens and helicopter at 7 a.m., Bassett thought there might be a wildfire near Highway 89. She didn’t imagine that her third oldest child was hit by a suspected drunken driver speeding down Fifteenth Street.

The 15-year-old was flown by helicopter to Washoe Medical Center in Reno. She was pronounced dead from massive head injuries at 3 p.m.

Jesse Whitworth, 21, was charged with felony drunken driving and held at El Dorado County Jail on $20,000 bail while Bassett was still alive. When she passed away, his charge jumped to gross vehicular manslaughter and bail rose to $150,000.

Gross vehicular manslaughter carries a maximum of 10 years in prison.

Bassett described her daughter as being “very happy with her life.” The teenager enjoyed writing, art and the outdoors. She snowboarded, but her love was skateboarding. Avril Lavigne constantly played on her stereo and posters of the singer lined her walls. Friends often said Bassett looked like Lavigne, a description she adored.

“That was her trademark: skateboarding and looking like Avril,” Bassett said. “That was her idol. (Tuesday) was just a regular day. She was very happy. She had a really good summer.”

Bassett didn’t know her daughter was seriously hurt until a South Lake Tahoe police officer who knows the family came to her house. By the time she got to the scene her daughter was headed for Reno.

Whitworth and his two passengers were drinking at a house before moving on to Nero’s Nightclub then finishing at Lakeside Inn and Casino, authorities said.

Whitworth reportedly didn’t see Bassett as she used the crosswalk. The left fender hit the child.

The three 21-year-olds in the car were uninjured. Whitworth underwent a blood test to determine his blood alcohol content level. Results have not arrived.

The speed of the black 2004 Subaru Impreza WRX as it went down Fifteenth Street is still under investigation, but witnesses guessed the maximum was 60 mph. The speed limit is 25 mph.

The South Lake Tahoe Police Department is investigating the accident with the assistance of the California Highway Patrol.

Counseling services were available at South Tahoe middle and high schools. STMS teacher Cindy Cowen had Bassett when she was in sixth grade. Many have said Bassett was a shy and quiet teen, but she did speak with a pen.

“She would just write volumes and put all her feelings on paper,” said

Dee McGarrity would force the girl to talk by constantly saying hello to her. McGarrity’s daughter, Frances DeCosta, was friends with Bassett.

“My daughter said a prayer to Marissa just so she could talk to her,” McGarrity said.

Bassett moved with her family from Nevada City to Tahoe four years ago. Her mother and father are divorced, with her father living in Santa Cruz. She is also survived by an older sister and four brothers.

Bassett understands it was a freak accident. Yet she stayed up Tuesday night wondering what good can come from her daughter’s death. She started with donating Bassett’s organs. Now she wants to raise awareness of how fast people drive on 15th Street and have the city install speed bumps.

“There was a lot of heavy pedestrian traffic during the Labor Day weekend, parents on bikes and baby trailers,” she said. “It seems like it would be a quiet side street, but I think a lot of people use it as a shortcut and drive faster. It was just one of those things.”

Services are pending for Bassett.

Anybody who witnessed the car on city streets Tuesday morning is asked to call Officer Chuck Owens at (530) 542-6100.

— E-mail William Ferchland at wferchland@tahoedailytribune.com


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