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Family, friends remember Laura Freeman with highway beautification

Rebecca O’Neil
Staff Writer


Who: Laura’s Angels

When: 8 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 22

Where: picnic table near the Cedar Ridge Y, near the market.

What: Clean up in honor of Laura Freeman — hard hats, pick up sticks provided (Bring your own mask).

At 5:34 p.m. on Sept. 22, 2007, 17-year-old Laura Freeman died in a car crash on Highway 174.

Thirteen years later, her father Paul Crawford will serve as a team lead on the second freeway cleanup to beautify the area and commemorate Freeman’s memory.

Since adopting the 6-mile stretch, Crawford and his wife, Shelly, don hard hats and tend to both sides of the street between Noel Lane and Peardale Road multiple times a year. The Adopt-A-Highway sign reads “In loving memory of Laura Freeman Rogers.”

Shelly and Paul Crawford said they meditate on their daughter’s smile every day, but amidst the pandemic, experienced her absence in an especially palpable way this year.

“She would have turned 30 years old on April 10,” Shelly Crawford said. “Her younger brother Morgan turned 25 on April 5.”

Paul Crawford said helping his 12-year-old son process his older sister’s death was hard to do, but feels proud of who Laura was, the smile she brought to the faces of those around her and how heroic she was in her death.

“She had a lateral break on her right arm,” Crawford said. “She tried to grab the wheel to veer away from the tree — and she was 17 years old.”

Freeman was killed Sept. 22, 2007, when a vehicle Yeager was driving crashed into a tree off Highway 174 north of Siphon Lane in Cedar Ridge. A 15-year-old male passenger, described as Freeman’s friend, survived but was injured.

Josh Yeager, of Las Vegas, pleaded no contest to a charge of vehicular manslaughter and felony drunken driving with injury. He originally had been charged with gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, driving under the influence with bodily injury and driving with 0.08% or more of alcohol in his blood. He was sentenced to one year in the Nevada County jail and four years of probation, The Union reported.

Freeman’s funeral was attended by over one thousand people, her mother said.

“That girl spread an infectious smile wherever she went,” Shelly Crawford said. “She made it her mission to put a smile on everyone’s face no matter how she was feeling.”

The funeral’s robust attendance, combined with Freeman’s constant smile, is why both Shelly and Paul Crawford said they were upset by The Union’s coverage of their daughter’s death, which included school administrators describing the 17 year old as “a loner” who struggled in school. Paul Crawford lamented that the school never gave his daughter an honorary high school degree.

Crawford said he has so much gratitude for the people who tried to help his daughter from the wreckage, especially the EMTs and the police department.


Crawford said his daughter would love the idea of a highway cleanup and is grateful for the opportunity to bring about more awareness and beauty in her memory.

“Back then everybody was pointing fingers at each other. It’s your fault, it’s your fault, it’s your fault,” Crawford said. “Even then I said if we were all doing our job she’d probably still be alive.”

Their first event was the 10-year anniversary of Freeman’s death was attended by Harley Davidson riders, Project Heart, members of Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous.

“All walks of life came — there was 20 bikes that showed up and we didn’t even know, from bikers to NA to AA to country folks, you name it they showed up,” Shelly Crawford said. “Some never knew our daughter, but they knew us so they showed up to support us.”

The group made up a team called “Laura’s Angels.”

According to the Center for Disease Control, 29 people in the United States die each day in motor vehicle crashes that involve an alcohol-impaired driver — that’s one death every 50 minutes.

Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer with The Union. She can be reached at roneil@theunion.com.


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