FOR SHIRLEY DRAPER, THE NEWS from Texas state troopers last Sept. 29 was what she had been dreading. Draper’s two daughters—Shauna, 10, and Marissa, 8—had disappeared 3½ days earlier after going out for breakfast with her ex-husband Greg Cook. Now after frantic searches throughout central Texas, the girls and their father had been found—drowned in Cook’s car in a murky pond near Draper’s home in Wimberley. Later, tests would show Cook’s blood-alcohol level to be .22, more than twice the legal limit.
That grim news was followed just six weeks later, on Nov. 10, by another stunning blow: Draper’s indictment on two counts each of injuring and endangering a child—felonies that could send her to prison for life. The indictments charged that the homemaker, 34, had let the girls ride with their father when she knew he had “consumed alcohol and was not capable of operating a motor vehicle safely.” Says Hays County District Attorney Marcos Hernandez Jr., 44: “I hope this will do good, and someone out there will not let this happen again.”
The highly unusual prosecution seems to have split the community down the middle. Many support it, citing children’s helplessness in such situations and hoping, like Hernandez, that the indictments will serve as a long overdue wake-up call. But an equal number say Draper has already suffered enough, a possibility the district attorney acknowledges. “There’s nothing I can do to her, really, in comparison to what’s already happened,” he says.
The events that led to the deaths of Shauna and Marissa and the father who by all accounts doted on them despite a serious substance-abuse problem are a haunting litany of what-ifs. Last summer, Cook, a chronically unemployed 36-year-old who lived in Fort Worth, pleaded guilty to three DWI charges and was sentenced to a four-month treatment program—only to learn that there would be no room for him in it until mid-November. Though he was freed on probation, the court ordered his car equipped with a breath-testing device that would prevent him from starting it if he had been drinking.
On Friday, Sept. 23, Cook had arrived at the home of Shirley Draper, whom he had divorced in 1987 after five years of marriage, to spend the weekend with his two daughters, his ex-wife, her husband, Harry Draper, and their 2-year-old daughter, Krystal. Harry, 45, who works for an Austin food-distribution firm, says the atmosphere was strained by Cook’s heavy drinking but that he tried to put up with Cook for the children’s sake. “I never liked him,” says Draper. “I tolerated him because he was a very big part of the girls’ lives.”
Sunday morning, says Draper, Cook apologized for his drinking and invited everyone out to breakfast. Despite police claims that Cook would have to have downed between 10 and 12 drinks that day in order to have the blood-alcohol level he did, “he wasn’t drunk that morning,” Draper insists. “He didn’t drink anything at our house that morning, because I hid it in the bedroom.” Still, there was an argument, partly over where to eat, and Cook and his daughters left by themselves. The breath-testing device on Cook’s car was circumvented when little Marissa blew into it—an evasion prosecutor Hernandez claims that Shirley Draper told investigators she knew about.
When Cook and the girls failed to return after several hours, the Drapers searched the area for any sign of Cook’s 1992 red Chevy Lumina. Finally, around 10 that night, Shirley reported them missing to the county sheriff’s department. In the days that followed, police searched all the roads within 640 square miles, and on Tuesday Draper and her husband hired a pilot to fly over the area.
But Shauna, a popular cheerleader and all-star softball player, and her sister, an honor student who dreamed of becoming an actress, were already beyond help. On Wednesday, 78 hours after she had last been seen, Marissa’s small body was discovered floating face-down in a pond filled with treated waste water.
Investigators say that 2 hours after Cook left the Draper home and shortly after he and the girls ate at a cafe in Wimberley, his Lumina skidded through an intersection at the bottom of a steep hill a mile from the house. The car broadsided a tree before plunging into 10 feet of water. Police believe that Cook, who was found in the backseat, was still conscious after the crash and, had he not been drunk, could have saved both his daughters.
Though his fate, obviously, has been sealed, Shirley Draper’s has not; she remains free on $5,000 bond pending a scheduled December arraignment. Officers of Mothers Against Drunk Driving note that divorced parents sharing custody, as Cook and Draper were, often face a dilemma when an inebriated ex-spouse comes to collect the kids. Refusal to surrender the children has its own consequences, they say, and legally a visitation order is often difficult to thwart.
But those concerns may now seem insignificant to Shirley Draper and her family. “I have a lot of anger, and I don’t know how to direct it,” her husband admits. “We were beginning the whole process of figuring out how to live without the girls, and then all this happened with Shirley. The whole world changes in a day.”
ANNE MAIER in Houston, KAREN ROEBUCK in Wimberley, BOB STEWART in San Marcos and DAN McGRAW Fort Worth