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Horror and healing

Senseless, grisly rampage haunts victims

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First in a four-part series

It could have happened to any family enjoying a peaceful dinner out. Three years ago, the lives of a 12-year-old girl, a young father, a talented musician, a waiter and a killer collided at a popular family restaurant.

The violence and randomness of the Chevys shootings captured Utahns' attention as few cases have.

Deseret Morning News special projects reporter Lucinda Dillon Kinkead spent three months investigating this case. This week in a four-part series, "Crossing Paths With a Killer," she tells the powerful stories of victims who met Quinn Robert Martinez that April night and how that encounter changed their lives. And she examines how Martinez, a middle-class young man from an LDS family, turned to meth and murder.

There is a Friday night feeling in the air, although it is Thursday.

Birthdays are like that, and Whitney's big brother turns 17 today. Dinner at Chevys Fresh Mex restaurant was fun, and now her family is headed to Snowbird resort for the night. It is a special weeknight treat, and Whitney and Dad are riding in the Berg family Bonneville. Mom drove her own car to the restaurant, and she and PJ, the birthday boy, are going on their own up the mountain.

There are no goodbyes as the family parts ways, just a quick "we'll follow you."

Twelve-year-old Whitney Berg fiddles with her Sony Discman in the front seat and chides Peter Berg, 43, in the moments that pass as he settles behind the wheel.

Whitney feels the passenger door open and sees the gun at the same time. She takes in the man with baggy pants and a blue, button-down shirt behind the handgun. She hears his order: "Get out of the car." Then louder. "Get out of the car!"

Watching Dad obey, Whitney does the same.

"Give me the keys!" the man with a goatee shouts, rounding the back of the car and advancing toward Peter Berg.

In seconds, Whitney watches Dad toss the car keys away from the car. She sees the flash as the assailant responds, firing two shots that pound her father in the shoulder and chest, and watches as he falls to the pavement.

Whitney screams.

The gunman scrambles to look for the car keys, then returns to her critically injured father.

"Go get the keys," he tells Berg as the wounded man struggles to rise. "They're over there," Peter Berg says, nodding away from him, away from Whitney.

Agitated by drinking and two weeks of shooting meth, the gunman trains his weapon and shouts at the wounded man who can't possibly follow the order. "Go get the keys!" he yells, even as Peter Berg collapses to the ground.

"Daddy, Daddy are you OK!?" Whitney cries. She can't move. She doesn't know what to do. The girl is paralyzed just long enough to watch as the gunman gives up on Peter's keys and runs through the restaurant parking lot with another victim in his sights. She stands stock still as he yells at the driver of a Chevy Tahoe, then fires through the driver's side window.

Then she runs. Past the cartoon car that is the Chevys Fresh Mex trademark. Into the restaurant. Into another grisly crime scene. She sees another man's body on the floor — the first victim to cross the path of the killer that night. Whitney stops, taking in the hysterical waitresses and the wailing diners, then screams into the mayhem.

"Help, somebody, please! My dad's been shot!"

Quinn Martinez is gone by the time they arrive, hiding out not far away at a friend's home.

Under a spectacle of flashing lights, police cars block 1300 East in some places. Helicopters rumble overhead. Sirens echo and police radios bark the latest reports of more shots fired at the hotel next door. Another gunshot victim at a convenience store down the street. Yet another person injured a block away near Creek Road.

Police try to control the chaos, taping off Peter Berg's body and an area where someone had seen Martinez ditch his gun as he ran away.

No one is allowed to leave, and police keep parking lots full of patrons from Chevys and nearby Sweet Tomatoes restaurant there while officers sort out witness statements and determine the shooter isn't among them.

It isn't long before a crowd forms. Many of the people trapped inside the cordoned-off crime scene have cell phones. The family members they call and others who see news bulletins on local television show up at the scene to line 1300 East three and four people deep.

Heading north on 1300 East, Sandy police detective Travis Peterson crests a hill above the restaurant, looks down at the scene and registers a quick thought: It looks like Las Vegas.

The random violence of the Chevys shootings captured Utahns' attention like few cases have.

"That's why it pricked the conscience of the community. Who expects a crime like this to happen at a family restaurant?" said Salt Lake County Deputy District Attorney Bob Stott from his downtown office.

Certainly not the Berg family. PJ turned 17 on that day, which is forever marked also as the anniversary of his dad's death.

Not Christy Bond, 27, who was bartending at Chevys that night and called police while Martinez was still shooting outside. She moved to Hawaii one month after the shootings. She quit her job, got rid of her car, grabbed her 2-year-old and a box of summer clothes and moved off the mainland.

"Things are fine now, but that's the reason I live in Maui," she said. "When you go through something as traumatic as that, you have to turn the reality part of your brain off."

Not Jerry Guenon, who was a patron at the restaurant that night, sitting with his wife and two young children only a few yards from the reception area where Martinez shot two men. He says his wife left him a month after the shooting because her husband failed, she thought, to adequately protect his wife and children.

And not Sandy police chaplain Steve Meltzer, who spent that evening at the Berg family's side.

He has seen his share of misery over the years, but he says his involvement in the aftermath of the Chevys shootings proved to be the greatest test of his own faith. In 12 years as a clergyman, no case has been as difficult.

"As a Christian, I am not supposed to have the feelings I had. I should have been modeling an attitude of forgiveness."

But instead of leading the "debriefing" meetings, where law enforcement officials process their feelings about traumatic events, Meltzer himself needed help and counseling.

"I had to go through a debriefing process myself. I was pounding the table. I wanted to hurt him," he said. "Even three years later, I get angry at that person."

"This case was all about the victims," said Stott, who spent two years preparing the capital case for Salt Lake County. "They all shared the tragedy, the awfulness of this bizarre crime that happened in a place where most people think they are safe."

As it turned out, several pockets of people were caught up in the horror of the shooting.

The last person Martinez shot, Briggs, was able to drive away from Chevys with a shattered jawbone. She saw lights at a convenience store up the street and ended up tumbling from her SUV at the Maverik Station a few hundred yards north of the restaurant. She spit out a mouthful of blood and teeth and bones as she did.

Josh Parker, the wounded waiter, ran from the shooting scene. In immense pain and with a grueling pressure in his chest, Parker stumbled through the kitchen and followed others from the kitchen staff who heard shots and ran to escape. He ran out the back door, through a side lot and down a hillside before collapsing in a yard in the tony suburban neighborhood near Creek Road.

Many people saw the shootings firsthand. Others tried to help the victims as they bled.

In the aftermath of this tragedy, waves of victims whisper their stories.

There is the story of the Berg family's ongoing healing — Whitney, now 15; PJ, 20; and mom, Loydene, who move forward with their lives but not so far that they leave father and husband, Peter Berg, too far behind.

There is the story of Jason Rasmussen's family, which tries to put as much space and silence as possible between now and the events of that night. This is a family so injured that answering questions about that night is invasive and wounding.

For others close to the shootings, the tragedy left behind hard lessons of remorse, dozens of life changes and cases where the trauma of the shooting triggered old addictions with fatal consequences.

Some find catharsis in talking about what occurred. Others want to leave the night of April 27, 2000, far behind them.

Also, there is the poignant story of the Martinez family, forever trapped in the consequences of their son's actions.

Ultimately, after two years of delays, the victims' families agreed to accept a plea agreement that guarantees Quinn Martinez will spend the rest of his life in prison. As inmate No. 30247 at the Utah State Prison in Draper, Martinez refused numerous requests for interviews by the Deseret Morning News.

When sentenced one year ago, Quinn Martinez offered his only public comment about his actions.

"No matter what I say, I know it will be inadequate," Quinn said. "I especially want to let Whitney Berg know I am so sorry for what I made you go through and watch, and everyone else, too."

Whitney Berg is older now. She is less the chubby-faced girl who watched a drug-crazed man shoot her father and more a young woman making her way in the the world. A teenager learning to drive and hanging out with friends, she tries to move beyond the memories of that April night despite reminders — the "triggers"— she encounters every day.

Strangers. Anyone who looks like Quinn. Four-way stops. "And things in threes," Whitney Berg said recently from her Mountain Green home. "Threes drive me nuts."

Q. Do you remember just one shot or —

A. Three

Q. Were they all together?

A. (Whitney nods head.)

Q. What did your dad do?

A. Fell.

Q. What did you do?

A. I was screaming.

— Excerpts from court testimony, Salt Lake County Deputy District Attorney Bob Stott's interview with Whitney Berg, age 12, Aug. 16, 2000.

In Monday's Deseret Morning News: How the Berg family is healing after losing husband and father Peter Berg in the Chevys shootings. Also, Jason Rasmussen's parents heard brutal details of their son's death in court and are still recovering. The stories of two families' journey through sorrow and anger.

E-MAIL: lucy@desnews.com