News

Actions

Unliikely duo is committed to saving lives

Posted: 7:12 PM, Jan 13, 2016
Updated: 2016-01-14 00:26:03Z

Jessica Rasdall was on a promising path. A freshman in college, she said she was on a business scholarship and excited about her future.

"I was just full of hopes and dreams. I just knew I was going to do something big," said Rasdall.

Rasdall and best friend from kindergarten, Laura Gorman, were ready to conquer the world.

They were at two different colleges, but still inseparable.

"She was more of a sister than a friend," said Rasdall.

 Then a fateful decision in February of 2006, two 18-year-old teens had too much to drink.

"The reality was we did not think it would impact us," said Rasdall.

The two went out for a girl's night in Ybor city. Rasdall said the two did shots and danced at a local club.

Then, Rasdall got behind the wheel. She managed to drive impaired for close to 30 miles. Just before their exit and five minutes from safety, Gorman's room at Eckerd College, Rasdall collided into a tree, killing her best friend on impact.

Prosecutor Rohom Khonsari was on-call and called out to the scene. It was the first dead body he had ever seen.

"That image does not leave you, and it just reinforces what you have to do in your job. When I was a prosecutor, I was definitely very tough," said Khonsari.

Despite Rasdall's pleas for forgiveness and speeches to prevent a repeat of what she did, Gorman's family wanted her in prison. Khonsari carried out their wishes.

"I despised her. I didn't think the talks she was doing were genuine," said Khonsari.

Rasdall said, "I could never be angry at the family because I caused them pain that can never be fixed. In my mind, I did not do anything to him. Why was he doing this to me?"

The case dragged on for two and a half years. Khonsari pushed for the maximum of 15 years in prison.

The judge ended up offering Jessica four years as a youthful offender. She took it. Then behind bars, she said she had a surreal moment.

There was a 20/20 interview that would again change the course of her life.

"I get goose bumps just thinking about it," said Rasdall.

Khonsari was asked if Laura Gorman was alive, would she want her friend Jessica behind bars.

"He said he could not answer that question, but if that was my friend, I wouldn't want him to go to prison. For the first time, I saw him as a person and not a prosecutor," said Rasdall.

When Rasdall got out, the two bumped into each other at a restaurant where Rasdall worked. To their surprise, not only a friendship -- but an idea was born.

"I knew she was still doing these talks," said Khonsari. "I proposed, 'Hey, why don't we do this together?'

The pair has traveled across the country, from the naval academy to high schools. Rasdall starts the presentation and then introduces Khonsari.

"From the stage you can see every jaw in the room drop," said Rasdall.

An unlikely duo has one mission.

"We know we can't reach everyone in the audience, but if we can reach just one person, then we know we have done our job," said Khonsari.

"If one life is saved because of this, it is worth all the pain that it has caused," said Rasdall.

If you want to read more of Rasdall's story, just head to her website at  http://www.jessicarasdall.com

-----