Two children were killed Wednesday morning when the SUV they were riding in rolled over and down an embankment. The driver, Christopher Phelps, has been charged with two counts of motor vehicle homicide.
The accident happened at 87th and Quest Street near Irvington, northwest of Omaha, around 12:15 a.m. Authorities say Phelps was driving drunk.
They say Phelps, 35, got in an argument with his girlfriend, Chanelle Torry, who is 28. Douglas County Deputies say Torry told Phelps to drive her and her three daughters to their Omaha home. Phelps sped off and lost control of the SUV turning onto 87th Street. The vehicle flipped over after it ran into a ravine. No one inside the vehicle was wearing a seat belt.
"Cherish life -- this is no way for kids to go," said Tiffany Baker, a friend of the family. "Tell your kids you love them everyday because in a blink of the eye they'll be gone."
Deputies said Phelps initially left the scene, but returned and was arrested. In addition to two counts of motor vehicle homicide, he was also booked for refusing to take a sobriety test at the scene.
Channel 6 News later learned that investigators received results of a blood test taken at the emergency room showing Phelps' blood alcohol level was 0.16 -- twice the legal limit for driving.
Chanelle told investigators she didn't want to argue with Phelps in front of the children, so she asked him to take them home. Deputies say Phelps was angry and in a hurry. Chanelle tried to secure the children, but couldn't.
"She attempted to do that as they were leaving the residence, but he sped off in a hurry,” said Douglas County Deputy Marty Bilek. “She was unable to secure the kids and the accident happened, just a block down the street. It's a terrible dilemma because she doesn't want to expose her kids to the argument, to the domestic violence, so she leaves the scene, but that poses a new risk with the fact that he is intoxicated and that is what happened in this case."
It happened just a few feet from Wendy Rodriguez's home. She heard the crash and went to investigate. "I came out and heard a woman screaming for help. I saw the car flipped over and the woman was saying that her three kids were inside and she wanted to get them out."
Phelps is scheduled to be arraigned on Thursday.
Chanelle's neighbor, Robin Shannon, says the family had recently moved next door. "Saturday, I was out in the backyard barbecuing some shish kebab for the game and the kids were out there playing hide and seek and then the mom came home and it looked like she had a birthday cake and they were all excited."
Laela's birthday was September 30th and Mela turned 5 on Tuesday.
"To bury a child is one thing, but having to do two at a time knowing they didn't have anything to do with this, I'm lost, I'm lost,” said Tiffany Baker, a friend of the family. “Two babies, two babies. They'll never get to go to high school or prom or have their first kiss, nothing."
Wednesday night, Chanelle's fellow social club members "Divas 4 Life" came together at Club Seville, 30th and Pratt, for a fundraiser for the funeral. The girls did not have insurance.
"We love her children as if they were our own," said friend Mona Cannon.
We're told the mother keeps running through the last conversation she had with her girls before the crash.
"The last thing they said was, 'Mommy -- good night.' 'I love you!' -- that's all she keeps hearing," said Aquindlyn Warren.
The girls' father, Blake Tooley, said the two did everything together. "They were full of life...energy from when they wake up to when they go to bed. They were two peas in a pod. If you saw one -- you saw the other."
He takes comfort in the belief the two are still together.
The family says there's a fund set up at Metro Credit Union in the name of Torry - Tooley Burial Fund.