SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – Heather Petersen had big plans and her life was going as scheduled.
But on January 15, 2018, her life was cut short.
Authorities said Heather’s car was sheared off on one side, killing her instantly.
That night, traffic was backed up for miles. Petersen’s young brother who was with another family drove past the carnage.
“He did not recognize the car at all because of the damage done to it,” said their mother Josee Petersen.
He later learned it was his sister inside one of the vehicles.
“It was tough on him,” the mother said. “It’s been really tough on him and he’s slowly coming to terms with his feelings.”
Authorities later learned Jose Lozoya-Tellez was driving drunk and on drugs when he crossed the median and hit Petersen’s vehicle.
After his arrest, Josee Petersen met with the Wasatch County sheriff to learn more about Lozoya-Tellez’ demeanor.
She said he denied responsibility.
“He tried to blame it on Heather,” Petersen said. “He claimed she swerved into him.
But the evidence didn’t show that. His path showed he crossed the median, hit Heather’s vehicle, and pinned it to the guard rail. Next to guard rail was a step drop off.
“I want to ask for forgiveness to the parents of the girl,” he said through a translator. “(And) also to the younger siblings. My heart is broken as well. I feel bad. I did not do this intentionally.”
But he admitted to drinking alcohol and using cocaine at a party he attended prior to getting behind the wheel.
At the time of his arrest, he was an undocumented immigrant. In fact, court records showed he had been deported to Mexico on a prior occasion but returned to the U.S.
He said if he’s paroled, he will return to Mexico and never return.
Josee Petersen and her family listened to his plea for parole through a video link to the hearing.
She said the immigration system is overwhelmed and unsupported by the law.
“It is true that my daughter would still be alive had Mr. Tellez not shown contempt for our laws by illegally entering this country before he was supposted to from his prior deportation,” she said. “Unfortunately, my family is not the only victim of such incidents.
Petersen also said the constitution guarantees rights of Americans but she said it appeared that Tellez had more rights than her daughter. But she wants to move on.
“These past 18 months have shown how destructive anger is and I would rather have something constructive come from Heather’s death,” she said.
But she didn’t feel Lozoya-Tellez has yet to accept responsibility. She, like the rest of the family, wants him to remain in prison.
She said their family will forever miss Heather Petersen. She was described as a beautiful person, full of life and a caring person.
Josee Petersen said her daughter did so much in the years she lived. After graduating from Wasatch High School, she traveled to South American and lived with a family. When she became of age, she served an LDS mission in Hondauras. Her mother said she believed in serving others. Heather’s goal was to be an elementary teacher, be a mother, and have children.
“Like my son said, she was radiant,” Petersen said. “She brought light anywhere she went.”
Their faith has helped the family slowly heal from the trajedy.
“We each have our very own strong connection with our savior,” Petersen said.
These days, there’s a sign on highway 189 near mile marker 23.
Heather’s name is on it and it serves as a reminder of a young woman who lived life full and had big plans.
Her mother knows she’d want them to move on by following Heather’s philosphy.
“Instead of being bitter, be better,” Petersen said.
As for Lozoya-Tellez, the entire board of pardons will review his parole hearing to determine if he should be paroled. If and when he’s paroled, immigrations authorities have been told about his status and the fact that he’s a two-time offender.