Wednesday, June 20, 2007

A deeply damaged life collides into greater tragedy

By Joline Gutierrez Krueger, Albuquerque Tribune
Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Cynthia Seeley told people she wanted to die.

In her short, painful 40 years of life, she had buried a son and been raped by a relative and, later, by an Albuquerque police officer.

She had fallen into booze and crack cocaine to escape the anguish of many failed relationships, male and female. She was a convicted felon, a drug trafficker, a forger and a woman on the edge.

She had also been a near-millionaire after receiving $943,380 in a federal lawsuit against Christopher Chase, the police officer she accused of rape.

In the courtroom that day in February 2005, she had smiled. And cried.

Two years later, money had apparently not bought her happiness.

In the morning of June 16, she tried to kill herself, according to a criminal complaint.

She downed a pint of vodka and a handful of alprazolam, an anti-anxiety medication. She got behind the wheel of a Chevy Avalanche and hurtled on Georgia Street Northeast through a residential neighborhood north of Expo New Mexico.

No one knows why she was there.

She ran a stop sign at Mountain Road and slammed into a silver Lexus driven by Tran Dung, 47, sending his car spinning and snapping his neck, the complaint says.

Doctors at University of New Mexico Hospital say Tran, a recent immigrant from Vietnam, is paralyzed and will likely die a "slow, painful death," the complaint says.

His condition had been so grave that Albuquerque police had initially charged Seeley with vehicular homicide.

For now, though, Tran will live. He is listed in serious condition, a hospital spokeswoman said.

Seeley will live, too, whether she wants to or not. She is charged with great bodily harm by vehicle and remains in the Metropolitan Detention Center in lieu of $100,000 cash-only bail.

She had walked away from her SUV, crumpled into the front of a house. Police say they found her curled on a front lawn, rocking and muttering, "I didn't want to hurt anyone."

Less than a mile from where she sat was the place that on a cold February day in 2002 she had been hurt, too.

She had testified at her federal lawsuit trial that Chase, an Albuquerque police officer for four years, had parked his squad car behind a Bennigan's at Louisiana Boulevard and America's Parkway Northeast and raped her in the back seat.

When it was over, he threw her and her purse to the ground "like trash" and drove away, she testified.

Chase had been one of two officers called to her apartment to investigate a call of domestic violence with her girlfriend.

Chase had offered to drive her to a friend's house so that the two women could separate and cool off when he veered off to the Bennigan's instead.

Seeley's lawsuit was one of six against Chase. All told, the city has paid out nearly $3 million in those cases.

Chase is serving a 15-year prison sentence after pleading no contest to 10 criminal charges involving attacks on seven victims, including Seeley, between 2001 and 2003.

If she is convicted, Seeley could be serving prison time as well. Certainly then her mental state will be brought out again in court.

During Chase's trial two years ago, psychologist Elaine Levine testified that Seeley had diagnoses of long-term depression, anxiety, alcohol and drug dependence and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Seeley, Levine said, was born of a mother strung out on heroin and into a life where nothing and no one could be counted on. She was sexually molested by a grandfather, Levine said. She gave birth to her first child when she was a child herself; by age 18, she was a mother of two.

Seeley married the second child's father, who abandoned her with three children when she was 21, Levine said. She began using cocaine and crack cocaine, especially after the death of her youngest son, killed, ironically, in a car crash.

"She has really suffered her whole life," Levine said.

The psychologist had advised the court that Seeley would need intensive long-term psychotherapy to help her "peel back layer after layer of trauma."

Whether Seeley had engaged in such treatment is unknown. If she had, it apparently had not worked.

Now, the pain that has brought her to her knees has apparently brought pain and paralysis to Tran and his family. The legacy of her sorrow is passed on, ugly and cold and relentless.

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