Funds go to mentally ill in Laura’s name
At the Board of Supervisors meeting on Sept. 28, the supervisors officially and publicly recognized the county’s role in the shootings of Jan. 10, 2001. At that meeting, with our gag order finally lifted, we presented the case that would have been made, had our litigation, Wilcox et al. v. Nevada County and George Heitzman, gone forward to trial.
The evidentiary record clearly shows, in our view, the negligence on the part of Nevada County and Dr. Heitzman in the care and treatment (or lack thereof) of the mentally ill client who killed three, including our daughter Laura, and injured many either physically or emotionally.
We have made our point and we intend to lay the matter to rest. We hope now to focus our efforts on the future delivery of mental health services in Nevada County and in California.
At the meeting, we presented our dissatisfaction with the civil litigation process. We were perhaps naive to believe that truth would prevail. We initially thought that the county would want to do whatever possible to make things right. However, we learned that once victims file a lawsuit they become targets themselves. We spent three grueling days in deposition, during which the county’s attorney tried unsuccessfully to diminish Laura as a person, and us as her parents, thereby attempting to minimize the harm.
As parents of a murdered child, we found that we had three great needs: information, accountability, and recognition of the harm we have endured. Through testimony at the criminal trial, discovery in the civil proceedings, and our own efforts, we were at last able to gather much information.
The belated expression of regret by the county finally recognized our harm. However, true accountability, which includes an understanding of the harm and loss, can only happen by communication between the offender and victim, or in this instance, between the plaintiffs and defendants.
The acknowledgement by the county of their failure to predict and prevent the shootings was, at last, an honest communication. We particularly appreciated the public statements of acknowledgement and apology by former Supervisors Martin and Conklin and the private acknowledgement from former Supervisor Antonson.
Our statements before the Board of Supervisors on the 28th were an effort to communicate our anger, our hurt, and our hopes to the many involved. We believe there can be no real healing without the salve of truth and understanding. In the end, we hope we will achieve reconciliation with all who shared responsibility.
Under the terms of the settlement with Nevada County, we received a $150,000 cash payment. After costs were deducted from the award, we received $55,260 as compensation for our daughter’s death.
We have often stated that our litigation was not about money. However, we had hoped for a larger sum so that we could make a far reaching and positive contribution in memory of Laura. In the last month, our family, including our sons, has donated and pledged $20,000 of this money to support improved mental health services, both statewide and locally. We believe that by providing financial support, we can help create a small change in a mental health care system that many feel is on the verge of collapse.
The majority of Californians understand that our mental health care system has been chronically underfunded and generally neglected since the 1960s, when many of the state’s mental hospitals were closed.
Assemblyman Darrell Steinberg once told us, “Helping is healing.” We have found this to be indeed true.
In the future, we will donate the remainder of this money to causes close to our daughter’s heart. We hope to benefit the youth and the mentally ill in Nevada County. In this way, Laura’s light will continue to shine on the community that she loved so well.
Amanda and Nick Wilcox live in Penn Valley.
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The California State Association of Counties, the voice of California’s 58 counties, would like to thank Nevada County Supervisor Heidi Hall for her strong leadership in supporting broadband for all in the state budget.