Gilma Rodriguez-Walters knew how hard it was to get ahead in the United States.
The 53-year-old Las Vegas woman came to America from El Salvador as a single mom when she was 19. She worked in a factory in California, then at McDonald’s for many years, then for two decades at Home Depot.
All that work, her three daughters said Monday, was part of a bigger purpose: providing a future for her children.
“My mom wanted the American dream,” said daughter Ruth Neall.
“She always wanted more for us,” said daughter Andrea Lopez. “The big thing for her was to go to school, get your education, go do something. She didn’t want us to have to work so many jobs like she did.”
On Dec. 30, Rodriguez-Walters was killed in a car crash that Las Vegas police said was caused by an intoxicated motorist driving recklessly. Authorities said Rodriguez-Walters was driving home from her job at Home Depot. She was just a couple of blocks away from her residence when, police said, her car was struck on Tropical Parkway by a vehicle driven by Marsha Stewart Byrd, 61, of Las Vegas.
She faces felony charges of reckless driving and DUI causing death. Police said that just prior to the crash, witnesses saw Stewart Byrd passing traffic on the shoulder of Tropical Parkway at high speed. Police said that when Stewart Byrd tried to get back on the road, she went into the opposing lane and hit Rodriguez-Walters.
Stewart Byrd since has posted bail as her case proceeds through Las Vegas Justice Court. Online court records indicate that on Jan. 7 she was declared indigent and that Deputy Public Defender Xiomara Bonaventure was appointed to represent her. Bonaventure could not be reached for comment Monday.
A preliminary hearing for Stewart Byrd is scheduled for Feb. 26.
‘We saw the struggle’
Rodriguez-Walters’ daughters said Monday that the pain of losing their mother is immeasurable. Their mother, they said, was finally seeing all her hard work pay off. She was a homeowner. She’d married the love of her life, Levi Walters. She also saw all three of her daughters obtain college degrees.
“I’m glad I let her know how much we appreciated her and the sacrifices she made,” Neall said. “I remember my mom working two jobs. I remember her job at McDonald’s. She was at McDonald’s for years. She ended up being a single mom to three girls, and trying to do that on her own was difficult.”
Daughter Mariela Amaro said there were many life lessons learned from her mother’s perseverance through the tough times.
“We lived through it,” Amaro said. “We saw the struggle. We learned to persevere through all the things we saw my mom go through. So we knew, ‘Just keep going. Keep your head up.’”
She said her mother couldn’t finish college, so all of her daughters did.
“It was so important to her,” Amaro said. “She was so proud. In her house she has all of our graduation stuff all over her house.”
In fact, she said, her mother acknowledged any accomplishment and remembered it.
The family wants to see justice done in the criminal case. Neall noted that the Clark County district attorney’s office has charged some defendants in fatal DUI cases involving deaths with second-degree murder, a charge she believes is warranted in the crash that killed her mother. The daughters also said they were disappointed that Stewart Byrd had posted bond and is free.
“It is so hard for me to feel hate for anyone,” Neall said. “I don’t hate anyone. I am disappointed. I am still in a state of disbelief. I’m still numb.”
A GoFundMe account is set up to help Rodriguez-Walters’ family “cope with the financial weight of her sudden loss.” Money raised, according to the family, will help with legal fees and “settling Gilma’s final expenses.”
The family also hopes that Las Vegans will take to heart the tragedy that can result from driving under the influence and do everything possible to combat the problem.
“My mom didn’t deserve this. My mom had a long time left to live,” Amaro said. “It is terrible to have to tell your children, ‘Your grandma is not going to be around anymore.’”