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Robert Trueblood Kept a Sad Vigil in Court for Wife, Children He Lost

Times Staff Writer

Like a man obsessed, Robert Trueblood has remained faithful to a commitment he made after he lost his wife and three children in a 1984 car crash.

Each day of the Superior Court trial of Michael Reding, the driver who was responsible for taking the lives of Trueblood’s family, he sat in court. He stayed even as a coroner offered graphic details about how his wife, Pamela, 36, and children, Eric, 11, Kerry, 9, and Scott, 8, were killed.

“The coroner’s testimony was the hardest,” Trueblood recalled. “I cried. I didn’t know what to do, so I just cried.”

Despite his emotion, he didn’t leave the courtroom.

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“I wanted to be a visible reminder that drunk drivers kill and leave victims,” Trueblood said in an interview before Reding was convicted Thursday of four counts of second-degree murder.

“No matter what the court decides; no matter how sorry Michael Reding says he is, the fact remains that a beautiful woman, age 36, is dead. She was the love of my youth. And the three children we had are dead.”

Trueblood said he intends to testify at sentencing of Reding, who was also convicted of two counts of felony drunk driving.

More than 800 people attended the Truebloods’ funeral, hearing them portrayed as the “ideal American Christian family.”

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The accident so captured the public’s attention that Trueblood was catapulted into the limelight as a defender of victims’ concerns. He has accepted the role as a public person.

“I spent Christmas Eve talking to a news reporter. I didn’t like it but I did it. To my way of thinking, if it can prevent one death by a drunk driver, it’s worth it,” he said.

Since the accident, scores of letters--with postmarks from throughout the United States and several foreign countries--have come from people offering prayers and comfort.

He has been invited to speak to various groups, including Mothers Against Drunk Driving. During the trial, Trueblood became good friends with one of MADD’s members, Roy A. Lang, a retired police officer whose wife was in a traffic accident involving a drunk driver.

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Although Trueblood has since remarried and now treasures private moments with his 6-week-old son, Robert Henry, he has taken life one step at a time. He met his new wife, Diane, at a church meeting after her husband died of cancer. She has a 13-year-old daughter, Anjenette, who also lives with them.

Lives in Same House

The 39-year-old linen supply manager still lives in the same Fullerton house he did before the Oct. 23, 1984, accident. And he travels the same Fullerton road, State College Boulevard near Bastanchury Road, where the accident occurred.

“I pass the spot every day,” he said, hiding any hint of emotion. “I still live on Lark Ellen, the street that Reding was supposed to turn in on,” he said, adding, after a long pause, “Instead, he drove into my wife.”

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When Reding is the focus of conversation, Trueblood assures reporters he is not vindictive and has sought only justice--not revenge.

After Reding’s conviction, Trueblood said he felt sympathy for the defendant’s mother, who began sobbing in the courtroom and just “fell to pieces.”

“I’ve never hated him (Reding). Look what it’s doing to his mother. All he needed to do was put his brakes on.”

But Trueblood’s emotions boiled when Reding testified that he “felt remorseful” and said if he had known what was going to occur, he wouldn’t have gotten behind the wheel of his car that night.

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“Reding is alive today because my children’s soft bodies cushioned the impact. I saw what was left of my wife. He did that,” Trueblood said.

Either with friends or relatives, but never by himself, Trueblood kept his vigil at the court. Often, he sat in a row with close friends who knew Pamela and with Pamela’s parents, George and Lillian Braun of Downey.

‘We’re Very, Very Close’

“What made this worse,” George Braun said, “is that our daughter Candy is married to Bob’s younger brother, Don Trueblood, and we’re a very, very close family.”

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There were two other children in the Trueblood car that night. Brian Rector, now 14, and Shawn Ratcliff, now 4, survived the crash but were seriously injured.

Brian Rector, in addition to numerous cuts and bruises, broke a left femur and had to be placed in a body cast after a month of traction in a hospital, said his mother, Priscilla Rector.

Shawn Ratcliff survived a ruptured spleen. Both are reported in fine health now.

“There isn’t a day that goes by that the accident doesn’t cross our minds,” Priscilla Rector said. “We all think about it constantly.”

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Said Trueblood: “I have learned that you better live life now. Enjoy those people who are around you now. If you love your wife, tell her so now. And if you love your children, tell them now. You only have this time to appreciate each other. It’s not money that’s important, it’s the people.”


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