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'Unfathomable, horrific': Family speaks to daughter's killer in wrong-way crash before sentencing

"When we first saw Willow in the emergency room, she was so beautiful," said Willow Yon's mother, Denise. "My family and I rested our heads on her broken body."

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — A Grand Rapids woman learned her fate in a Kent County courthouse Wednesday after admitting to driving drunk and ultimately killing 21-year-old art student Willow Yon in March of 2022. Yon's family spoke emotionally to courtroom in the moments before the woman was sentenced. 

"I stand before you a broken woman," said Denise Yon, Willow's mother. "I want this court to feel the pain my family and I lived with every day."

Willow was killed in a wrong-way crash on US-131 in March of 2022. Ashley Guadalupe Rodriguez-Hernandez was charged with her death. On Wednesday, a judge sentenced her to more than three years in jail. 

"Ashley has yet to begin her sentence, but my family has almost lived one year with theirs," Denise said. 

Rodriguez-Hernandez was driving southbound in the northbound lanes when she hit Willow head-on. Both were taken to the hospital where Willow later died. 

"That call that night was unfathomable... and horrific," said Willow's father, Paul Yon. "We walked into that room at the hospital where my daughter was laying on a table, and I couldn't stand up anymore."

"When we first saw Willow in the emergency room, she was so beautiful," Denise added. "My family and I rested our heads on her broken body."

Paul said he's carried Willow's drivers licenses in his pocket every day since she died.  

"She surrounded herself with loving and talented friends, and was at the top of her life," Paul said. "She was poised to stay there, and we want to remember her right there."

Court documents show that on the night Willow was killed, Rodriguez-Hernandez had a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .114%. The legal limit is .08%.

Denise spoke directly to Rodriguez-Hernandez several times in Wednesday afternoon's courtroom. 

"You, Ashley, with your selfish decisions, crushed my daughter with your car," she said.

Denise said the crash report showed that it took 30 minutes for first responders to get Willow out of the car. 

"Thirty long, agonizing minutes," she said. "A fireman stayed with her the whole time. He told us she was unresponsive, but moaning and moving her head and arms at the scene. She was trying to get out. She was in pain. Do you have any idea what it was like as a parent to not be able to help your child? To know that she was stuck on that highway and she had no one to hug her and make her feel loved in her final moments? These thoughts will haunt us for the rest of our lives."

The initial accident resulted in two other crashes, including one with a tanker truck full of ethanol being driven by Brian Musil. He, too, spoke in court Wednesday before the sentencing. 

"The scene that I see every night is that dash cam playing over and over, with the cars colliding and no where to go," Musil said. "[Ashley's] taken a job that I love to do, and have done all my life, and now I can't stand to go to work anymore."

"Every time I see headlights, I wonder if they are in my lane," he added. "She's messed up my world. Not as bad as the other person involved, but it wasn't fair to anybody, and it was avoidable."

At the end of January, Rodriguez-Hernandez pleaded guilty to reckless driving causing death. On Wednesday, she was given a sentence of 42 months, or about 3.5 years. 

Willow's family said the sentence isn't what they were hoping for, but no sentence or punishment can ever bring Willow back.

"I understand his sentence and why he gave it, seeing as she has a young child," said Denise. "We're not looking to ruin Ashley's life whatsoever, but would've liked it to have been a little bit more, so that you really have an impact on an individual."

"When Ashley gets out of jail, she's going to be very young, and she can still move forward with her life," Denise added. "She can take care of her son... we can't."

"We're hoping the situation will get better with time, but it's gonna take some legislation to change the laws a little bit, so that more time can be asserted against offenders," said Paul Yon, who shared his frustration with the number of deadly accidents that continue to happen. 

Denise explained to the courtroom that Willow worked hard and set goals for herself. She was a dedicated third-year student at Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University, and studied industrial design. 

"An artist, she was truly an artist," said Denise, "and she loved everybody for who they were, even when they didn't know it themselves."

In the courtroom, Denise held up a picture of her daughter, showing it to Rodriguez-Hernandez.

"Ashley, do you understand?" she asked her. "Do you know and understand the depth of how many people are living with the loss of Willow from their lives?"

"We wonder how many lives would she had left an impact on in her lifetime," said Denise, "but we will never know because you took her life." 

"I hope you, Ashley, can make up for the value and impact that Willow would have brought to the world," she said.


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