DAYTON - The last phone call Charlette Fortner had with her 22-year-old daughter will haunt her forever.
"She said, 'Mommy, I just called to say I love you,' and I told her, 'Mommy's busy right now, can you call me back later.'"
But later will never come.
Minutes after hanging up, Christiana Lea Crowder of Dayton was killed in an auto accident Friday afternoon on Lakeview Hill.
That last conversation repeatedly rolls through Fortner's mind. The guilt is suffocating.
"You should never be too busy to talk to your babies," the grieving mother said from her Dayton home Saturday. "Just take three minutes to finish the conversation. Tell them you love them."
Crowder was the passenger in a vehicle driven by friend and neighbor Brienna Bolta, 19. According to the Nevada Highway Patrol, Bolta drifted into the dirt shoulder, overcorrected and lost control. The Ford Explorer rolled at least twice, ejecting Crowder, who wasn't wearing a seat belt.
Rescue workers frantically tried to save the young mother's life. In a helicopter, on the way to a Reno hospital, Crowder succumbed to her injuries.
Bolta was treated and released from the hospital.
Crowder's Labrador-mix puppy, Jack, was also ejected from the truck. After a night of observation at Lone Mountain Veterinary Clinic, the yellow pup was released.
On Saturday, Animal Control Supervisor Pat Wiggins arranged to have Jack returned to Fortner.
"When I heard the puppy was alive I just cried. How could she die and the puppy live?" she asked as one of a thousand questions she'll likely ponder for a lifetime. "I guess her spirit's in him now."
An Illinois transplant, Fortner, her husband Jim and children Savannah, 3, and Kerby, 7, moved to the Dayton desert.
Crowder, struggling to raise her 4-year-old son Kaleb and wanting a better life, decided to join her family less than a year ago. For six months out of the year Kaleb is with his father. For six months he's with his mother.
The toe-headed youngster was to return to Nevada in August.
"She was a good girl," Fortner said. "She was street savvy and picked up on stuff real quick."
The anguish is pierced by moments of realization. Crowder should be buried in her native Illinois. Her mother plans to do everything in her power to make that happen, despite earning a living on a bartender's wage and having just sunk her life-savings into a home remodel.
"I just want to fly her home in the green grass and the trees. Kaleb should be able to go visit his mother," she said through tears.
Co-workers at Old Fogy's bar in Dayton have started a collection.
Bartender Terry Hentschel said Saturday a bucket is sitting at the end of the bar and anyone wishing to help the family can drop off or send in donations.
Today, Fortner will go see her daughter. One last time she'll stroke her girl's blond hair and touch the skin she cherished.
"I just have to tell her I love her. I just didn't get to tell her," she cried. "I don't know how to quit hurting. I don't know how to quit shaking. How do people bury their kids?"
n Contact reporter Fran Norton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1213.
You can help
Old Fogy's at 75 Highway 50 East will accept donations to help the family with funeral costs. For more information call Old Fogy's at 246-8080.