Sheriff’s Office Victim Advocate Receives Prestigious Award
Sheriff’s Office Victim Advocate Debbie Boyle-Grimwood
Submitted by Deputy Cocha Heyden
Public Information Officer
Douglas County Sheriff’s Office
Sheriff David A. Weaver was very pleased to hear that one of his employees was recognized for her work, at the annual conference for victim advocates.
Sheriff’s Office Victim Advocate Debbie Boyle-Grimwood was presented with the Wendy Preston Family Award, at the 21st Annual Colorado Organization for Victim Assistance (COVA) conference which was held October 18-21, 2009, at the Keystone Resort, in Keystone, Colorado.
This award, which was first presented at the 2008 conference, is to honor a crime victim/survivor who has made significant improvement to services, rights, or treatment of crime victims. The Wendy Preston Family Award was named in honor of Wendy Preston, who was murdered on June 23, 1977 in her parents’ Florida home. Her parents, Bob and Pat Preston worked tirelessly on the issue of victim’s right in response to the lack of information or assistance they received from the State of Florida during the trial of Wendy’s murderer. They decided to take action with the hopes that no other murder victims’ family would have to go through what they did.
In 1979, Bob and Pat helped to establish the Justice for Surviving Victims organization, a pioneering grass-roots effort organized with the goal of improving the treatment of crime victims. The Prestons have been involved with the Crime Victim’s Rights movement literally since its very first days. In 1988, the Prestons and their Justice for Surviving Victims organization were in the forefront when Florida passed its Victim Rights Amendment with 90% of the vote. After retiring, the Prestons moved to Colorado and helped to create and pass the Colorado Victims Rights Act. Bob Preston became a Co-Chairman of the National Victims’ Constitutional Amendment Network (NVCAN), an organization that has been instrumental in the proliferation of Victims’ Rights through constitutional amendment throughout the country.
One of the nomination letters was put in by Debbie’s supervisor, Patty Moschner, who in her letter states, “Debbie Boyle is an amazing woman who traveled from desperate mother, to passionate legislative witness, to compassionate victim advocate in the last 12 years. Her journey is a symbol of the energy of the Wendy Preston Family award.” The letter also goes on to detail how Debbie managed to change the system based on the love for her family and the determination to see justice done. (For the complete story behind Debbie’s journey, see attached nomination letter.)
Debbie has changed the system for victims in Colorado by her willingness to rise to a challenge. She continues to make a difference each day as she provides comfort and hope to victims of all types of crime. She exemplifies the fight and fortitude as displayed by the Preston family and will bring additional honor to the Wendy Preston award.
The Wendy Preston Family Award
Victim service providers are constantly looking for better ways to help the victims they serve. We attend trainings, we develop trainings to teach others what we have learned, we network with other victim service professionals to bring needed resources to our clients, we seek out the guidance of mentors in the field so we may learn from what they have achieved.
While all of these betterment efforts made by those within the profession are to be commended, sometimes we find that the greatest contributions to the victim services field are made by the victims themselves. This is certainly the case with Bob and Pat Preston who, after the senseless murder of their daughter Wendy, have worked tirelessly across the country to turn their horrific personal loss into invaluable public gain.
Wendy Preston, age 23, was murdered on June 23, 1977 in her parents’ Florida home. She was a geriatric nurse who had decided to change careers, and was visiting her mother and father before leaving for the New York School of Ballet. While out with her friends one evening, she was overheard saying she was leaving town, and that her parents wouldn’t be home in the coming days. The murderer found the parents’ home, and broke in to find money to buy drugs. Wendy was in the home, and was killed. Her body was found 6 days later, when friends who hadn’t heard from her began to worry and went looking for her.
As court proceedings began in the trial of Wendy’s murderer, Bob and Pat Preston were informed that the State of Florida was the victim in this case and that they would be notified if their services as witnesses were required. As the case progressed, Bob and Pat found great difficulty getting any information concerning what was happening with the trial. Eventually, Wendy’s murderer was allowed to plea bargain to second degree murder under the condition that he would not receive credit for time served in a mental institution. Of course, he immediately appealed the terms of the plea bargain and was ultimately given credit for time served because the Florida Supreme Court decided that to deny him such credit would “implicate significant constitutional rights.”
The murderer had rights. Bob and Pat wanted to know where there rights were. This story began in the late 1970’s, several years before President Reagan commissioned his 1982 task force to look into the issue of the treatment of crime victims. Years before Victim Rights was identified as an organized movement. Bob and Pat Preston found out that the rights they had under the constitution were none.
In 1979 Bob and Pat helped to establish the Justice for Surviving Victims organization, a pioneering grass-roots effort organized with the goal of improving the treatment of crime victims. Through their group’s efforts, many well-intentioned bills were passed by the Florida Legislature, but without a constitutional amendment to back them, they were easily disregarded by the court system in favor of defendants’ constitutional rights.
The Prestons embraced the 1982 Task Force’s recommendation that Victim Rights should be part of the US Constitution. They also embraced the philosophy that the effort should start at the state level, where amendments could be tested and refined before becoming part of the US Constitution.
The Prestons have been involved with the Crime Victim’s Rights movement literally since its very first days. In 1988, the Prestons and their Justice for Surviving Victims organization were in the forefront when Florida passed its Victim Rights Amendment with 90% of the vote. After retiring, the Prestons moved to Colorado and helped to create and pass the Colorado Victims Rights Act. Bob Preston became a Co-Chairman of the National Victims’ Constitutional Amendment Network (NVCAN), an organization that has been instrumental in the proliferation of Victims’ Rights through constitutional amendment throughout the country.
Bob Preston emphasizes the importance of victims’ rights in the criminal justice process with the following quote:
“From the standpoint of the process of justice being done, victims who are included in the criminal justice process will be far more cooperative with reporting crime, and cooperating, with authorities and proceeding in the prosecution. From the standpoint of the victim, when you are treated with trust and compassion, you start to regain faith in the world, and a view of the fact that life goes on, and that life can be beautiful.”
The Wendy Preston family has reminded us that if we want to provide better services to victims, often times the victims themselves will point us in the direction we need to go. To this end, it is important to acknowledge the positive contributions victims have made to the victim services profession. Contributions whose beginnings were often born in horrific and painful loss. This is why COVA has created the Wendy Preston Family Award to honor a crime victim or survivor who has made significant improvement to the service, rights, or treatment of crime victims.
August 31, 2009
Colorado Organization for Victim Assistance
2460 W. 26th Avenue
Denver, Colorado 80211
Dear COVA Award Selection Committee,
Please accept this nomination for Debbie Boyle Grimwood for the Wendy Preston Family Award.
Debbie Boyle is an amazing woman who traveled from desperate mother, to passionate legislative witness, to compassionate victim advocate in the last 12 years. Her journey is a symbol of the energy of the Wendy Preston Family award.
In 1997, Debbie’s son, Gabriel, was a victim of a hit and run auto versus pedestrian crash in Denver. He was rushed to the hospital with little chance of survival. She received that dreaded call in the middle of the night informing her to get to the hospital as soon as possible. When she arrived, she found that her son was in a coma, had head injuries, and suffered from multiple broken bones. The list of injuries was overwhelming – the prognosis was devastating. Gabe’s chances of survival were limited. And, she was told, if he did survive, he would have little or no brain function.
But Debbie is a fighter and refused to give up on her son, so she stayed at his bedside talking to him and encouraging him. During that time, she also looked for answers as to how this could have happened. There was little evidence and limited witness information. The police department just didn’t have a lot to go on.
But, again, Debbie is a fighter. She looked at her son’s clothes and found paint fragments. She found the imprint of the vehicle’s hood ornament. Armed with those two items, she began to search for what type of car and what year the car could be. She contacted the media and found a friendly ally in Sean McLaughlin that helped to publicize her efforts. Against all odds, she identified the type of car, publicized the possible damage, and a tip came into the police. An arrest was made and she was feeling that justice was winning!
Throughout this time, Gabe held on. He seemed to stabilize, and there was hope for survival. What the rest of his life would look like was still unknown. Then one day, he came out of the coma and his mother’s fighting spirit was also in him. He worked his way back mentally and
physically, hoping to walk, to talk, to perform simple tasks. He struggled with a brain and body that needed to learn everything all over again. But he did not give up and he steadily improved. And his mother, Debbie, was by his side as his encouragement, his defender, and his partner in this battle.
One day Debbie met with the district attorney and was hoping to hear that Gabe’s case would result in a long sentence for the man that ran Gabe over and left him to die in the roadway. But she was informed that hit and run with serious bodily injury was just a misdemeanor crime in Colorado. There would be limited accountability for changing the course of Gabe’s life forever. There would be minimal consequences for the devastation he had caused. She followed every court hearing, demanded every level of accountability, and saw the case through the final day of probation, the final hour of community service.
But, remember, Debbie is a fighter. So while the case went on with great support from the Denver DA’s office, Debbie researched changing the law so another family would not face this injustice in the future. She found sponsors who introduced a bill to change the law. She testified before the legislature providing the impassioned plea that only a mother can deliver about the impacts on her son and her family. The legislation, nicknamed the Boyle Bill, was passed and signed into law on June 4, 1998, by Governor Roy Romer. Hit and run resulting in serious bodily injury had become a felony in Colorado.
By now, Debbie had become an unofficial victim advocate. When she found out that she could volunteer to actually do this work for others, she leaped at the chance. Her skills, compassion for others, and strong desire to reach out to her community then led her to change careers and seek employment as a Victim Advocate. For the last 10 years, she has served honorably as an advocate with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office. And Gabe? He is now independent, married, and a father.
This incredible journey was not only documented by Channel 7 through the eyes of Sean Mclaughlin, but Debbie’s tenacity and determination was also the subject of a Lifetime documentary as part of Erin Brockovich’s show, Final Justice.
Debbie has changed the system for victims in Colorado by her willingness to rise to a challenge. She continues to make a difference each day as she provides comfort and hope to victims of all types of crime. She exemplifies the fight and fortitude as displayed by the Preston family and would be an amazing selection to receive the Wendy Preston award.
Please contact me if you need further information.
Victim Assistance Coordinator