By Peter Schelden
Haley Bayrooti made a U-turn on Santa Margarita Parkway at El Toro Road and the result shattered her life—and the family of a 54-year-old father of four killed that Friday.
Detailing the fatal accident publicly for the first time, she has a message to share:
“All I want is for the family to know this accident has changed my life forever, too. I, too, am suffering immensely.”
A mixture of guilt and fear have defined Bayrooti’s life since the March 15 tragedy.
“I don’t have a life, I really don’t,” she said. “I get out of bed with no purpose. I go to bed with no purpose. I don’t know if I’ll get better, if I won’t get better. Sometimes I wish to God it was me and not him.”
Hasti "Haley" Bayrooti, a lawyer from Rancho Santa Margarita, wished the victim’s family “peace and patience” and hopes for healing.
“I just wish for them to know that I’m not at peace either,” she said in an interview Thursday.
Four months after colliding with Eric Billings on Santa Margarita Parkway near Trabuco Hills High School, Bayrooti publicly detailed for the first time how the fatal accident happened.
Bayrooti, still 39, said she was traveling west on Santa Margarita on her way to Mission Ranch Market that Friday evening.
She said she was thinking about a trial beginning the following Monday and she missed the left-hand turn onto Los Alisos Boulevard.
Instead she made a U-turn at El Toro Road.
Next, ”something came into contact with me or I came into contact with something. I don’t know,” she said outside the fountains near Selma's in RSM.
Her car wouldn’t stop, she said.
“I tried so hard to stop that car,” she said, gesturing as if she were holding a steering wheel and slamming on the brakes. ”The wheel was out of my control. The brake was out of my control.”
“They wouldn’t let me go see him. I wanted to,” she said. “There was a pastor there with his wife. I was sobbing and crying and I asked, ‘Can you please tell me how he’s doing?’ And they said, ‘Honey, he’s gone. Just stop.’ When they told me that, something in my stomach ripped and just dropped.”
Killed instantly was Billings, church youth leader from Rancho Santa Margarita and owner of a small construction company.
The impact on her life was immediate, Bayrooti said.
She dropped the Monday case and halted her legal practice, she said. She never bothered to retrieve her impounded car.
“I needed something to calm my nerves,” she said, gesturing to her e-cigarette, a habit she picked up after “the incident,” as she refers to it.
And the same week as the accident, she tried something more drastic.
“I attempted suicide,” she said. “I took everything in the medicine cabinet.”
Her mother found her and called police. She spent 72 hours on suicide watch as a “5150”—held for psychiatric evaluation, she said.
It wasn’t the first time her mental health has been evaluated.
“I’ve had illnesses; I was diagnosed with PTSD, OCD,” she said. “I was diagnosed with manic depression and for those I have to take medication or else (I’m) not going to function.”
She fears the antidepressants found in her blood following the accident could lead to criminal charges.
“When the police arrived, initially they were comforting and sweet to me—I was jumping up and down, pulling my hair,” Bayrooti said.
“But then ... one of the officers said to me, ‘Do you take any medications?’ And I said, ‘Yes, I do.’ From then on I think the investigation took a different point. They did a Breathalyzer. They did a full-on field sobriety. They said, ‘You want to cooperate, don’t you?’ I said, ‘Absolutely. A man is dead.’”
Bayrooti said she was not impaired by her medication.
The aftermath has been painful. She fears reprisal and imprisonment. Soon after the accident, someone threw rocks at her home, she said. They were too small for police to take fingerprints. They shook her up.
“I’ve been closing all my windows, closing (my) shades,” she said.
About a month ago, police told her the case had been sent to the District Attorney’s Office to decide whether to move forward with prosecution.
She’s seeing two psychiatrists and a spiritual healer.
And she has developed her own ritual on her search for peace.
Bayrooti’s apartment backs up to Billings’ place of worship—the RSM Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
“There’s been a couple of times I’ve gone there and held onto the walls of that church and said, ‘Mr. Billings, show me my way. I don’t know where to go from here.’ I pray to him, I say to him, ‘Show me my way.’”