HANOVER, COUNTY, Va.- Road rage is a well-known menace these days, like texting and driving.
But 15 years ago, on August 8 at about 9 p.m., it was still kind of new and strange, not the kind of thing that three teen-aged Hanover County girls would be thinking about on their way home from a fun day at Virginia Beach.
“Just a typical afternoon summer vacation. You know, three girls, sun, sand and fun,” recalled Jessica, who didn’t want her last name published because she was one of those shot during a road rage incident that remains unsolved 15 years later.
Her close friend, Sara Bruehl, a recent Atlee High School graduate student, was shot in the head and died at the scene.
Sara, a budding florist, was the driver of a rental car that was playing cat and mouse with a small red car driven by a man who seemed to take a special interest in the girls in the New Kent County area of I-64.
“It was crazy,” Jessica recalled. “He kept bugging us and bugging us and bugging us and we flipped him off. We were like, “Hey, leave us alone.’”
The man rolled down his tinted driver’s side window and fired four shots. Jessica was hit in the left foot and right calf. Sara was mortally wounded and the Nissan Altima ghosted off the road into a ditch. The suspect may have briefly stopped. A passing motorist called police.
The suspect is believed to be a light-skinned black or Latino male with a goatee. The car description wasn’t much more detailed, Jessica said, because the last thing they were thinking was the cat-and-mouse game would become violent.
Jessica said the state police investigator on the case, who has since retired, showed her one set of lineup pictures. There apparently has never been a good suspect.
Sara’s mother, Chris McIlwee of Tappahannock, told me “It hurts just as much (now) as it did then . . . She would be 33 years old. I know she would be married. I wonder if she would’ve had kids, how her career would be going.”
We visited by Sara’s gravesite at Signal Hill Memorial Park in Hanover County.
Chris believes her daughter, a famous hugger who loved children, would likely have her own children by now.
So does her close friend, Amber Stanley. She said she could see Sara “with a family and probably her own flower business, probably about 10 butterfly gardens around her house.”
Jessica cried as she remembered her friend, mightily regretting that seemingly innocent night and hoping the shooter is “rotting in hell.”
“He had to be high or messed up on something,” she said. “Because I’ve never in my life seen someone with eyes as evil as that.”
Even now, after all the stories we’ve read and videos we’ve seen about road rage, it’s hard to figure how someone could fire a gun into a car
carrying three young women, ending the life of one of them. (Chillingly, Sara’s personal car she normally would’ve driven had the vanity tag 4EVR18.)
Anyone who knows anything about this, or thinks they may know something, should do the right thing and call the state police special agent on the case at 804-537-6774 and get this off your heart. Call me.
Please watch the video for more detail and to see a composite sketch of the shooter.
And while you shouldn’t live your life in fear of maniacs like this one, know they’re out there as you drive through this world.
You can read and post memories to Sara Bruehl at this Facebook memorial page: