May 2, 2002

Her cheeks flush pink and a coy smile lights up Kim McCarthy's face when she talks about Danny.

Fifteen years after she married her high school sweetheart, the Foxboro mother of five is still in love — even though she knows she will never see his face again, except in pictures.

Danny McCarthy was ripped from his family 19 months ago. The Medfield Police sergeant was struck by a speeding driver while working a detail on Rte. 109 in Millis.

But what haunts his widow is that she feels there was no justice in the sentence his killer, Rita Garland, received.

Her actions brought about his death, yet she's free.

"I've said all along and feel more so now, that I want to be an advocate," Kim said.

She is raising her voice, asking legislators and anyone who will listen, to enact new laws that will make motor vehicle homicide a felony, so the perpetrator will face a stiffer penalty than her husband's did.

"If it helps another family down the road, I know it would be something Dan would be proud of," she said.

She's had enough.

After so many months of mourning, McCarthy is ready to take control, to turn some of the pain into action. It's time the justice system empowered the victims and their families, she says.

She's also doing it for her children, who are now fatherless because of Garland's actions.

Kasey, 14, Courtney, 11, Danny Jr., 9, Kaylee, 8, and 3-year-old Patrick — the spitting image of his dad — deserve better treatment than they received from this state's courts, that's for certain. The Massachusetts court system dealt this family a second blow earlier this month.

Although Garland did answer the charges and was sentenced after pleading to sufficient facts, she only received four years of probation and 2,000 hours of community service. She lost her license after the accident but can reapply in six months, bringing the total loss of license to just two years.

That's it.

No time in jail.

He's dead.

She's free.

And Kim McCarthy says it's not enough.

"I personally have lost all faith I ever had in the justice system," she said.

In court, the family pleaded with the judge to suspend Garland's license for a longer time.

The blame falls on Massachusetts law. Here, motor vehicle homicide by negligence, the charge Garland faced, is a misdemeanor — a fact that is maddening to this mother whose young children lost their father.

Her kids, too, struggle to understand. To them, when a person is bad they go to jail. Their mother must explain that the person who killed their daddy is free.

"I look at my kids and hear the questions they ask me. ... I'm trying to explain the legal aspect and they're looking at me with those eyes and those tears and saying 'It's not fair.'

"Sometimes I don't know what to say to them because I don't understand myself."

To the McCarthy family, justice has eluded them in their grueling ordeal and is now just an unfulfilled dream.

"I think what Rita Garland did was just as bad, if not worse, than a drunk driver," Kim McCarthy said while sitting in the kitchen of her Foxboro home.

"I don't believe she left work and intended to kill Danny, but the fact is she did."

The family did receive a $3.2 million civil settlement from the company for which Danny was working a detail when he was hit by Garland. Since the accident, Kim McCarthy no longer works as a nurse two days a week, but works as a single-parent, stay-at-home mom.

Garland's actions put an end to the McCarthys' storybook romance that began when she was 16, he 18 and they both worked at Marshall's in Newton.

"There was something special about him," she recalls, looking away wistfully. "He was a perfect gentleman. He had a smile that lit up a room. I knew deep down that he was somebody I could fall in love with and spend the rest of my life with."

That's exactly what she planned to do, until she grieved at his funeral and began facing the rest of her life without him.

Danny's thoughts and opinions are never far from his wife's mind or heart as she raises their children alone.

"Sometimes I think about it and get scared," she said. "I have the responsibility to bring these five kids up and bring them down the right path."

It's a daunting task.

Yes, she being married to a cop there was a certain danger that could result in this type of tragedy, but she also never dreamed the small-town life of the suburbs would be so dangerous.

Not here. Not him.

Still, she seems to have found some peace in the life she must now lead. Reminiscing about her husband makes her smile, though a shadow of grief is clearly present.

"I thank God every day for the time I had with him," she said. "We have five healthy kids and there is a piece of him in each of them."

The pain, she said, has dulled with time and is no longer "excruciating." But it is still there, and always will be.

Strength of spirit shines bright in Kim McCarthy's blue eyes as she talks about her life now with her kids.

"Obviously I do have my days when I'm not as strong," she said. "I know I have the strength to get through it."

And she isn't alone as she continues the life she and her husband created for their children.

"I know Dan is with us," she said simply. "I know he's watching over us. He's guiding me in the decisions I make with the kids."

Tracey Lewia is assistant editor of the Milford Daily News.