Trying to get home

Shaina Carter left work in Haubstadt about 10:40 p.m Jan. 21. She was texting with a friend as she cruised down Indiana 68 and merged south onto Interstate 69 — heading home to Evansville.

 

Chris Goolsby had just left a weekly poker game from a bar on North Green River Road. He was drunk — twice the legal limit. He probably meant to go south toward his home in Uniontown, Kentucky. He did travel into the southbound lanes of I-69. But he was driving north.

 

A motorist spotted him near Lynch Road. She likely was speaking with the 911 operator as Shaina traveled in the left lane. Chris’ headlights appeared in the distance, coming fast.

 

Shaina hit her brakes. It was too late.

 

Shaina Carter, 32, leaves behind a husband and four young boys. Chris Goolsby, 36, is survived by his two children, family and scores of friends that loved him.

 

These are their stories — the journeys that lead them each to Mile Marker 13 on the southbound lanes of 1-69.

 

By Thomas B. Langhorne & Jessie Higgins

Design by Noah Stubbs

 

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Chris Goolsby

Chris Goolsby had a way of inspiring love and devotion. You can hear it in the voice of the ex-girlfriend who still carried a torch for him. The grandmother who cannot say his name without weeping. The school administrator who recalls having “had the pleasure of” teaching him.

 

They tell stories of Chris the doting father. Chris the hard worker. The romantic fool. The good-time charley, oozing charisma and drawing other people to him. The joker.

 

But Chris Goolsby, 36, was also a ticking time bomb.

 

Convicted at least three times on drunken driving charges, Chris sometimes drove drunk without getting caught, according to longtime friend Brandon Baker. Unable or unwilling to limit his alcohol intake in social situations, Chris did not recognize his limits. Baker said he was liable to resist friends’ attempts to take his car keys and was adept at slipping away from them at watering holes.

 

Then he would get behind the wheel.

 

“He’d say he was going out for a smoke or something, and he was gone,” Baker said, his face etched with pain.

 

At the time he killed himself and 32-year-old Shaina Carter while driving drunk, Chris was serving a yearlong term on Vanderburgh County’s Alcohol Abuse Probation Services Program. The program requires daily Breathalyzer tests and participation in treatment programs. The probation had been transferred to Kentucky’s Morganfield office, minutes from Chris’ Uniontown home, at his request. Kentucky reported no probation violations.

 

Baker said his friend was strictly a social drinker. A car salesman, Baker sold Chris the 2014 Ford Taurus he was driving the night he died. Chris attended Baker’s August 2015 wedding in Alabama. The two men lived together at one time.

 

Baker expressed his anguish at his friend’s death, and Carter’s, in a plaintive Facebook post the next day. He did not need a toxicology report to know what happened. That would come nearly two weeks later, and it showed Chris drove with a blood-alcohol level of more than twice the legal limit.

 

“Why did u have to chance it again? It’s never worth it,” Baker wrote on Jan. 22. “We’ve been through so many memories that I will never forget u as long as I am on this earth.”

 

I have know Idea where to start. First off I'm soo sorry to both sides of this tragedy. My prayers go out to the...

Posted by Brandon Kyle Baker on Friday, January 22, 2016

Chris Goolsby poses  beside his new 2014 Ford Taurus that he purchased in May 2015. About 8 months later, he drove this car the wrong way up I-69 and collide with Shaina Carter's 2009 Dodge Journey killing them both.

‘I ALWAYS WILL LOVE HIM’

For a man who would be such a pivotal figure in her life, Courtney Jeffreys barely remembers the first time she met Chris. It was sometime in the mid-1990s, when she was 12 or 13. He was four years older. Both lived in Henderson, Ky., Chris with his mother, who by then was divorced from his father.

 

Later, the pair lived together for nearly two years. Jeffreys said they stayed close for years afterward.

 

“Anytime I called he came running, no matter what the situation or anything,” she said.

 

But before the relationship could begin in earnest, the teenage Chris moved to Florida with his mother. He attended Jupiter High School in Palm Beach County, leaving during the 1997-98 school year.

 

Chris found trouble in the Sunshine State, beginning what would become a string of arrests and convictions on burglary and theft charges over the decade to follow. His adult criminal history in Kentucky begins in January 1998, when he was 18, and includes a 2004 conviction for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.

 

But there was another side to Chris Goolsby — a side charming and affable enough to inspire fierce loyalty from family and friends. None of them mentioned his criminal record.

 

When Chris returned from Florida, he and Jeffreys became thick as thieves. His breezy irreverence and adventurous spirit captured her imagination.

 

“He showed up at my door one day, and he had $10 for gas,” Jeffreys said with a laugh. “He said, ‘Let’s just go drive and see how far we get.’”

 

The relationship turned serious around 2006, and the couple rented a duplex together. Jeffreys said her life with the newly domesticated Chris was idyllic. She remembers him as a gentle soul seemingly incapable of anger and a practical joker who once proclaimed his love in mayonnaise on her car windshield. He was romantic, unlike other guys she met.

 

“I would walk out of work and he would be sitting on my car with flowers in his hand. He opened doors, you know?” she said.

 

The relationship eventually foundered on Chris’ desire to father children to carry on his name — something Jeffreys was physically unable to do. She remembers telling him to have a baby with someone else, then come back to her. But she didn’t think he would take her seriously. He did.

 

“He came back, and he was proud! He got somebody pregnant,” Jeffreys said. “He said, ‘I did what you told me to.’ And I was angry — not angry, but ...”

 

Chris became involved with other women too, Jeffreys said, but the dalliances could not douse the embers of their relationship. Running in the same social circles, the pair kept recombining. Jeffreys said they knew everything about each other.

 

Jeffreys was reluctant to discuss Chris’ drinking, but she knew about that too.

 

“He might have had a little bit too much, but he was having fun. He wasn’t a drunk,” she said.

Her voice broke as she spoke.

 

“I don’t understand why Chris was on the wrong side of the road. I don’t understand why he’s not here right now,” she said through tears.

 

Jeffreys and Chris stayed in touch, but their relationship ended in 2007. She laughed softly when told he had recently posted a profile on a dating website.

 

“I always will love him,” she said. “Had I known Chris was single, he probably wouldn’t have been.”

 

A FORESHADOWING

It was almost 1:30 a.m., Dec. 18, 2009, when two Evansville police officers saw a white Chevrolet Monte Carlo blow past a stop sign at Riverside Drive and Locust Street. It was Chris Goolsby. He was weaving in his lane too, according to an incident report. Chris’ blood-alcohol level was .14.

 

The officers discovered something else about Chris: He had been caught before. A routine check revealed a drunken driving conviction in Kentucky the previous year. The case, originating in Henderson County, was charged as a first offense.

 

In the Evansville case, Chris pleaded guilty to misdemeanor drunken driving. He was sentenced to one year in the county jail, which was suspended to probation. Chris charged with drunken driving again Sept. 1, 2014— and this time the beef was a felony.

 

The police report would foreshadow events on the night Chris killed himself and Shaina Carter while driving the wrong way on I-69. Officer Matthew Taylor was assisting other officers in the Washington Square Mall parking lot, just outside KC’s Time Out Lounge.

 

“I noticed a white Lincoln Navigator SUV driving up the wrong side of the lane in the parking lot,” Taylor wrote.

 

Goolsby registered a blood-alcohol level of .17. He hired a lawyer.

 

Months later, after preliminarily pleading not guilty and filing a discovery motion for video and audio recordings related to his arrest and Breathalyzer maintenance and operator certification records, Chris pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor drunken driving charge. He was sentenced April 28, 2015, to one year in jail, which was suspended to the Alcohol Abuse Probation Services Program stint he was serving at the time of his death.

 

Deputy Prosecutor Martha Posey said through a spokesperson that she doesn’t remember the plea negotiations. Defense attorney Kevin D. Shields declined to comment.

 

‘A NICE YOUNG MAN’

Shaina Carter

At the time of his death Chris was working as a laborer at Consolidated Grain & Barge in Uniontown. He was popular enough there that the company allowed coworkers with whom he had been friendly to attend the funeral.

 

Chris apparently also made a good impression on people at ITT Technical Institute-Newburgh, where he earned an associate degree in 2014. The school sent flowers to his funeral, said Campus Director Farshad Moshgbar.

 

“I had the pleasure of teaching him Math I and Math II myself,” Moshgbar said. “He was very courteous to everybody, and he was popular. We feel that we lost a nice young man.”

 

He had a large circle of friends, many of whom belonged to the same poker group. In what would become a strange coincidence, one of those friends was Dwan Carter, Shaina Carter’s husband.

 

Chris and Dwan were never close, but for years Dwan sat across from him at games, making bets and small talk.

 

Chris last saw Dwan about three weeks before the wreck. It was early January, and they were playing in a tournament at a friend’s home.

 

“I had to move out to Union County, out in the sticks,” Dwan remembers Chris saying. He had no idea at the time how that memory would haunt him.

 

The sense of loss felt by Chris’ paternal grandmother, Pauline Walker, seems overwhelming. Chris lived with Walker in her one-story house in Henderson off and on for years.

 

“He would call and say, ‘Grandma, can I come home?’ ‘Well, sure you can,’” she said in her living room.

 

Two nights before his death, Chris showed up at the house with his 8-year-old son and a bag of laundry for Walker to do. He had picked up the boy after getting off work. Chris paid child support for his son and a daughter who now live with their mothers, Walker said, so he worked as much overtime as he could.

 

Walker asked Chris if he and his son wanted something to eat. He said yes. Walker said she cherishes the memory of what happened next: She turned to see the pair praying at her table.

 

“This is like losing my own child,” she said, tears welling in her eyes.

 

Long after the graveside service ended, Dwan Carter stood alone, staring at his wife’s casket.

 

Hundreds packed the pews at Christian Tabernacle that day for Shaina Carter’s funeral. Her family and closest friends then escorted her flower draped coffin to Oak Hill Cemetery.

 

Shaina (pronounced “Shay-nah”), 32, left behind Dwan and their four sons. The day she died, they were 12, 9, 8 and 6.

 

“They don’t really understand,” Shaina’s mom, Cindy Floyd, said a few days after the funeral. “We try to explain it to them that Mommy’s in heaven, but they keep asking why she’s not here.”

 

The youngest two were especially confused, she said. When Shaina’s casket opened at the funeral they clutched their teddy bears and asked why their mother would not come sit with them.

 

“This is a different type of pain,” Dwan said. He sat slumped on his couch days after the funeral. “You get that feeling where you have to throw up, but nothing comes out. It hurts that much. It’s all over me. That was my wife.”

 

Dwan and Shaina were married 14 years. He still remembers everything about the day they met.

 

Their mutual friends set them up, he said. It was 2001. Dwan, then 24, was curious about Shaina, 18. Her dad was a minister. Shaina was known in their South Side neighborhood for her floor-length skirts.

 

The first thing Dwan remembered seeing as Shaina approached him was her sparkling lip gloss. It was captivating, he said.

 

“Girl,” Dwan called out without thinking. “Your lips be poppin’!”

 

A year later, Shaina became pregnant with their first son. Their families were eager for them to marry — so eager that their mothers eventually just planned the wedding.

 

“It was such a pretty wedding,” Shaina’s mother said. “She was so beautiful.”

 

She was happy, too. She and Dwan wanted to have a big family, and by her mid-20s, Shaina was a mother of four.

 

Most of Shaina’s adult life revolved around work and family — she had time for little else.

 

“She put us first in everything,” Dwan said. “She sacrificed everything she wanted to do for us.”

 

JASON CLARK / COURIER & PRESS Archie Carter pauses during the funeral service for his daughter-in-law Shaina Carter at Christian Tabernacle Church in Evansville Saturday Jan. 30.

A POINTLESS ARGUMENT

Shaina’s mom always told her she would make a great nurse, so after her first son was born she took a job as a caregiver for adults with disabilities. She wanted to get an idea what it might be like before committing to nursing, Floyd said.

 

It was a natural fit.

 

Shaina bounced to different agencies for the next few years before landing at a Haubstadt group home in 2010.

 

Her family was worried about the long drive. With no idea of the dire consequences, Shaina and Dwan regularly argued over what route she should take home from Haubstadt. Dwan insisted U.S. 41 was best. Shaina preferred I-69.

 

“We had that argument so many times,” Dwan said. “I even pulled out a map once and showed her, ‘See on 69 you go all the way around here, 41 is a straight shot home.’”

 

A pointless argument at the time, it now took on a dark new meaning.

 

Despite the long drive, Shaina was excited for her new job. The facility seemed nice and she thought she would make a difference there. “The guys,” as she and her coworkers called the patients, fell in love with her.

 

“She just had a way of talking to them,” her coworker Chrissy McGillem said. “She was very direct, but calm, and they just listened to her.”

 

The patients and her coworkers in Haubstadt became a second family.

 

“I remember when my car got a flat tire at the group home, and I couldn’t afford to fix it,” said Charity Sutton, Shaina’s co-worker. “Shaina came and picked me up every day until it got fixed. She genuinely cared.”

 

A CRUEL COINCIDENCE

Shaina worked nights in Haubstadt. The hours were wearing, and meant she and Dwan had opposite schedules. Dwan was at work by 7 a.m. Shaina’s work day started around 2 p.m. — about an hour before Dwan came home.

 

Shaina frequently worked past 10 p.m., so when her boys awoke early in the morning Shaina was already beat, Dwan said.

 

“She’d lay there and be like, ‘I don’t want to get up!’ ” Dwan said. “And I’d just laugh, and she’d be like, ‘It’s not funny, I don’t want to get up!’ ”

 

Inevitably, one the boys would pounce on her — they loved to tease Mommy. Her youngest liked to grab both her cheeks and rub his nose against hers. Dwan thought it was funny, so he would nuzzle up and do the same.

 

“We pick with each other,” Dwan said, laughing. “We just do some corny stuff to each other. It works for us.”

 

But with so much time apart, Shaina and Dwan lived somewhat separate lives.

 

Shaina spent a lot of her free time shopping with her mother or going to church. She sang in the church choir and attended service every Sunday she wasn’t working. Everyone said her mother was her best friend.

 

Meanwhile, Dwan joined a local group that hosted poker tournaments where he met a whole new circle of friends. In what would become a strange and cruel coincidence, one of those friends was Chris Goolsby.

 

Dwan and Chris were never close, but for years Dwan sat across from him at games, making bets and small talk.

 

“He was always drunk,” Dwan said about a week after Chris drove his car into Shaina’s vehicle on I-69.

 

Dwan last saw Chris about three weeks before the wreck. It was early January, and they were playing in a tournament at a friend’s home.

 

“Haven’t seen you in a while,” Dwan remembered Chris saying. “I had to move out to Union County, out in the sticks.”

 

“Hey,” Chris said, suddenly. “What do you think of my new polo shirt?”

 

Chris was drunk, Dwan said. Dwan was amused. He had no idea at the time how that memory would haunt him.

 

‘SO BUSY’

Shaina took care of everything at home, Dwan said. She handled all the bills, did the housework, cared for the kids — everything.

 

Dwan wished he could go back and help her more. He wished they had done more as a family.

“Her father told me this,” Dwan said, in a faraway voice.

 

“He’s like, ‘Dwan, you know this is God talking to you. He wants you to be more in my kids’ life.’ Yeah, my boys live here. Me and my wife live together. But when— things going the extra—” Dwan paused. “I wasn’t doing that. I can admit it. I can admit it and it hurts. Sometimes you have to be real with yourself.”

 

Shaina was hard to keep up with, though, especially this last year. She started making some major changes in her life.

 

At her insistence, she and Dwan worked with ECHO Housing to rent a four-bedroom home. She bought herself a new car, a 2009 Dodge Journey, so she would have a safer and more comfortable commute to Haubstadt. And she start taking classes at Ivy Tech Community College. After more than a decade as a caregiver, Shaina wanted to become a nurse.

 

She and Dwan planned to buy a house in the suburbs when she graduated. They talked about growing old in that home. It would be a place where they envisioned entertaining their many grandchildren.

 

“She was just so busy,” Cindy Floyd said. “She was always doing something, always moving. You couldn’t keep up with her.”

 

FIRST PHOTO: Shaina Carter with her newborn son, Davon.

SECOND PHOTO: JASON CLARK / COURIER & PRESS Davon Carter, 12, wipes away tears as his father Dwan Carter comforts him during the funeral service for his mother Shaina Carter at Christian Tabernacle Church in Evansville Saturday Jan. 30.

The day Chris Goolsby and Shaina Carter died was unremarkable. Shaina woke around 5:30 a.m. and got her four boys ready for school. She always drove them herself, wanting all the time with them she could get. She worked the night shift in Haubstadt that day, so she was part way through her shift when Chris arrived at a weekly poker tournament at O’Brian’s Sports Bar & Grill — hosted by the same Texas Hold’em group to which Shaina’s husband Dwan also belonged. Meterologists predicted a snow storm would hit Evansville that night. Shaina’s mother called her a couple times worried about the road conditions. Shaina was supposed to leave work at 10 p.m. that night, but she lost track of time talking to her coworker. “Next thing we know, she looks up and it’s 10:40,” her coworker Horace Copeland said. Her kids were already in bed. Dwan was trying to wait up for her, but by then he had fallen asleep on the couch. About 10:45 p.m., Shaina hopped into her car, backed out slowly and drove toward Indiana 68. By 11, she’d merge onto I-69 South.