SAN JOSE — A woman motorist who slammed into four teen-age runners, killing one, has been beset by tragedy for years and was on medication for injuries suffered in a 1963 kidnaping, police said.
Drinda Atnes, 43, tried to begin a new life in San Jose a year ago. Now she is facing charges of driving under the influence of three prescription drugs and killing a 15-year-old boy with her car.
"It's a horrible thing that happened and I don't know how she'll live with it, but I just know it was a medical thing," said Jeanie Holdaway, a longtime friend.
"You could blame that guy (her attacker) for this," Police Detective Anton Erickson said.
Drove Over a Curb
She was charged with swerving her car across traffic, over a curb, through a fence and into a group of high school cross-country runners jogging on a dirt path Wednesday. One of the victims was fatally injured. The others were hurt, one critically.
Police say it is only the latest in a long series of misfortunes to befall the woman.
"We feel strongly that it was not an intentional act," Lt. Steve D'Arcy said. "She had some serious head injuries that started her long odyssey on medications and surgery."
Atnes was disfigured in a hammer attack by a 17-year-old boy and left for dead in the Utah desert in 1963.
She endured numerous operations, including brain surgery July 27 that cost her the hearing in her left ear, and she suffered through a fire that destroyed her house and a brief marriage, investigators said.
"She was hesitant about driving since her (most recent) surgery, but she wanted to be independent," said Beverly LaPine, manager of the San Jose apartment complex where Atnes lived. She was unemployed and on welfare.
Police traced her troubles to 24 years ago when she and a Salt Lake City friend, Carol Clayton, left Utah with two men for a trip to a Nevada casino town. Their car broke down in the desert. The women decided to walk home, setting off an angry rampage by one of the men, who was using a hammer to fix the car.
He beat them with the hammer and buried them under a pile of rocks and brush. Atnes survived after three operations in six months. Her friend died. Their attacker served slightly less than 10 years in prison.
Atnes later had a baby by a boyfriend, but the child lived only three days.
She married in 1977, but the union was annulled after a year. The couple lived in Arizona, where their house burned to the ground, killing a pet dog and a cat.
Early this year, she was diagnosed as having a tumor behind her left ear. Surgeons at O'Connor Hospital in San Jose removed it after two attempts, but the surgery left her deaf in that ear.
Police were investigating whether Atnes truthfully stated on her California driver's license application that she was required to take medication. If she did not, she could face additional felony charges.
Atnes was charged with three counts of driving under the influence of prescription drugs and one count of vehicular homicide.