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Victim led her 'little ducklings'

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By Don Pace

Rene Collins-Gonzales was remembered in a ceremony at West Las Vegas Middle School on Tuesday, where she maintained an office as the district’s school nurse.

A drunken driver killed Collins-Gonzales, her husband Paul, and three of their four daughters Nov. 11, 2006.

Ray Collins Sr., a former principal at the middle school, said his daughter was working as an emergency room nurse at Alta Vista Regional Hospital, but gave up a big paycheck for lesser wages at the school to be close to her children and give something back to her alma mater.

Speaking about her motherly instincts, Collins said she would gather her girls every day and they would leave West Las Vegas High School in a line, from the tallest to smallest. Collins said Principal Gene Parson once quipped, “There goes Rene with her little ducklings.”

Collins said Paul and Rene never saw the West school district as green and gold or Robertson as red and white; he said they saw kids with bright futures at both school districts. He said Paul was from Robertson and Rene was from West, and they got married.

“It happens all the time. My wife (Cathy) was from Robertson and I was from West. That’s what we need, a community united,” Collins said. He said the community must work together, especially when it comes to the fight against drinking and driving.

Superintendent Jim Abreu agreed with Collins and talked about how Paul and Rene gave countless hours to kids from both school districts.

“We need to honor their memory by vowing to be better people, better students, better friends, better neighbors and better colleagues. We need to remember we should leave a place in better condition than when we found it. That’s what they did; they left West Las Vegas a much better school, and they left our community a much better community,” Abreu said.

Principal Josephine Romero told the crowd the school was memorializing the Collins, Garcia and Gonzales family with three sites of remembrance. She said a picture and bronze plaque are now hanging outside her former office, outside the school’s front entrance sits a bench with Rene’s name, and there’s also a courtyard with five pion trees representing the fallen.

Teacher Brian Gurul’s Junior Business Professionals of America class worked on the memorial at the school’s drive-in entrance as a class project. He said it would be called Arissa’s Courtyard in honor of the only survivor of the crash, Arissa Garcia, a West Las Vegas student.

He said pion trees were chosen for their year-round beauty, the fact that the trees bear fruit for years to come, and each pion representing a life impacted by Paul, Rene, Alisha, Jacquelynn and Selena.

BPA President Christian Chavez told the crowd that students have been deeply involved in signing contracts with their parents promising never to drink and drive. He said West Las Vegas BPA members bring the issue of DWI forward at state and national competitions and will continue to do so.

Vice President Keith Salazar said, “An intoxicated driver going the wrong way on the highway claimed the lives of five people one year ago, leaving only one survivor. Imagine yourself in that position, all alone with no family, how would you feel? I know I would be extremely sad; I would be hysterical — crazy for the lack of a better term. I don’t know how I would be the same after something like that. How are we supposed to feel safe when you drive knowing there are people out there driving while intoxicated? If we don’t do something, who will? We need to stand up for what we believe in and stop DWI.”

Collins said last year the state Legislature ignored pleas for stronger measures to combat DWI; he said he believes this year will be different.

“We left a lot of tears last year. This year, we are going to go back with unfinished business with the governor and Legislature, but this year, I am not leaving any tears. This year, I’m going to leave some blood of the family on their hands. We need answers for what happened to Paul, Rene and the girls,” Collins said.

Collins told the Optic later that he believes that people are getting the message out that you can’t sell gas and liquor at the same place; it doesn’t mix, he said.

“All they did was replace the drive-up window with gas stations selling liquor,” he said.