Guilty plea in drag-race deaths brings relief, sadness

Kelly McDade works on a victim-impact statement about the death of her niece in a 2015 drag-racing accident, which killed three young people and injured another. Credit:.Ronnie Polaneczky .

Kelly McDade has been working on her victim-impact statement for hours, and she’s still stuck.

It’s not that words fail her. It’s that they won’t stop. If she wrote down everything she knew and cherished about her beautiful niece, Yvette, she’d be writing for the rest of her life.

“I had the same problem with Yvette’s eulogy,” says McDade, 40, who lives in Bridesburg. “I’m overwhelmed.”

But she’ll keep at it. She needs Christopher Bloomfield to comprehend the enormity of his decision to careen his 2007 Acura along Sandmeyer Lane, a notorious drag-racing strip in Somerton.

On that night – July 29, 2015 – Bloomfield, 21, rounded a bend, lost control of his car, and slammed into a tree at 75 m.p.h. Killed on impact were McDade’s niece, Yvette Gonzalez, 17; Sabrina Rhodes, 17; and Felipe Hernandez, 20. A fourth passenger, Bogdan Arutynov, now 20, suffered brain trauma and multiple fractures from which he is still recovering.

Bloomfield, barely injured, fled the scene and defended himself afterward in bizarre social-media posts, his callousness worsening the pain of his victims’ loved ones.

For months, as investigators painstakingly pieced together what happened, the families feared that Bloomfield and his drag-racing partner, Ryan Farrell, now 21, were getting off scot-free. But the men were at last arrested in February 2016, and the case has been slogging toward trial.

But last Monday came word that Bloomfield has agreed to plead guilty this Thursday to homicide by vehicle, DUI, aggravated assault, and leaving the scene of an accident that resulted in death. (Farrell appears still headed to trial). Assistant District Attorney Tom Lipscomb, who prosecutes vehicle deaths, is seeing significant state prison time ahead for Bloomfield.

“I don’t want to get my hopes up, because he may change his mind” about pleading, which would be Bloomfield’s right, says Lipscomb.

But he has asked the families to be prepared, anyway, to read victim-impact statements before Common Pleas Judge Kathryn Streeter Lewis. He hopes to give them to the judge Monday.

Crystal Smith, big sister of Sabrina Rhodes, would not say whether she’d address Bloomfield in court.

“All the years he spends in jail won’t make up the time we lost with her, the years that were erased,” says Smith. “I’m just very thankful we will not have to go to trial [with Bloomfield]. My family has been through enough.”

Jo-Jo Hernandez, mother of Felipe, knows what she will say. Felipe and Bloomfield had once been roommates, an arrangement that didn’t last long because of “differences” Felipe had with him.

“But my son was a peacemaker, and he gave Chris a second chance because he saw something good in him,” she says. “I want Chris to have a second chance, too. I will tell him that I forgive him. But he still has to accept the consequences of his actions. I hope he uses his time in prison to think about how to be less selfish and more selfless.”

Her husband, for whom Felipe is named, is not yet willing to be charitable. He says, though, that word of a guilty plea has lifted a heaviness off his chest.

“Maybe, when this is all over, I can forgive,” he says. “But I’m not there now. ”

McDade is a long way from forgiveness. In truth, she often feels numbed by her niece’s death. Yvette’s parents, Erin Hill and Jim McDade, have been so shattered by their daughter’s death that they have leaned heavily on McDade for emotional support in the last 23 months. (They declined to speak for this column.)

So have McDade’s own four kids, including daughter Ava Grace, 10, who writes daily letters to Yvette in a journal she has kept since the accident.

“If I could make you come back I would,” reads one entry.

“You are like a rainbow because you are pretty,” reads another, printed above a crazy crayoned swirl of color.

It kills McDade.

“Yvette was like Ava’s big sister,” she says. “They had such a close connection.”

How will she explain all of this to Bloomfield and the judge? There aren’t enough words to describe Yvette’s generous spirit, mischievous humor, and big heart, how one smile from her could turn around your worst day. But she’ll try.

“I want Chris Bloomfield to go to bed at night hearing my voice,” she says. “Because we’ll never hear Yvette’s voice again.”