■ By Mary Ann Morris / Editor
Helen Richardson struggled to recover from the senseless accident that almost claimed her life as a 15-year-old in a Hemet High School crosswalk in 2012. In the ensuing years, she struggled to find herself and accept her new reality, which meant that some things were harder than “before.” Much harder. Things most people take for granted, like walking without pain, remembering things clearly, finding employment, connecting with friends and creating new dreams for her “new normal.”
Richardson’s struggle came to an end as she took her own life April 23, just a few months before she turned 21. She was found dead in the early morning hours of a San Jacinto home, and those left behind began a struggle of another kind: the struggle to understand how a young woman with her life ahead of her – despite its challenges – could feel so despondent that she couldn’t continue.
Lisa Medina, who, with her therapy dogs, helped Richardson with her recovery, is struggling to grasp the loss, as she lost both her parents to suicide. “I can’t even put into words the grief I’m going through. I can’t imagine what her family’s going through,” said Medina. “Just a waste of a beautiful girl.”
The accident that forever changed Richardson’s life occurred May 30, 2012 when Daniel Carrillo, then 18 and a sophomore, plowed into a crowd of about 30 students in a crosswalk. Richardson was almost finished with her freshman year. Carrillo, who received his driver license just 15 days before the collision, was never charged or tested for DUI, according to sources. The alleged cause of the collision was determined to be brake failure. Nine people were treated for injuries.
Richardson’s injuries were the worst. And Medina’s 90-pound Rottweiler named Rumor was said to be instrumental in Richardson’s exit from a week-long coma. But emerging from the coma was only the beginning of a long, painful recovery that at times, left her confused and often angry. She suffered from PTSD and brain injuries that were manifested through a changed personality, short-term memory loss, and difficulty with comprehension and reading.
Animals seemed to be the best way to reach Richardson, and pet therapy seemed to work. In fact, Richardson became close to Lisa Medina and her dogs, Rumor and Kohlette, and volunteered for pet therapy at hospitals and schools. She thought she’d found her place working with animals.
Richardson struggled to find employment, but because the accident left her with some brain damage, she couldn’t find a job. She often stayed with friends, and sometimes she had nowhere to go and was often homeless. Her mother, Trisha Telezinski, said Helen began to treat life like one big summer vacation, and she worried every day. Richardson began to dabble in drugs and preferred to hang out at the beach with friends. She even stopped volunteering with the animals that were instrumental to her recovery thus far. Valle Vista Assembly of God held a memorial service to celebrate Richardson’s life on Sunday to a crowd of about 200 people, many of whom were grappling with the loss of such a beautiful young woman. Her family will miss her the most.
“She was a beautiful free spirit who had a whole lot of love to offer this world,” said Mark young, Richardson’s grandfather, who also spoke of her affection for animals. “Helen would have to stop and pet every dog along the way.”
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to YouCaring.com, Helen A. Richardson/ Hooves & Paws Pet Therapy.