We have a graceful bridge over the Arkansas River, uniting the North and South of our metropolitan area from its western side. I don’t travel this bridge very often—maybe three or four times a year—finding that my travels take me more east-west and, if I go north, I usually travel on the Eastern side of the loop.
But this week I had court in another county, and the logical route home brought me by way of this bridge. It was on that day (last Thursday), that something occurred to me. Never—not one time, I’d venture to say—do I traverse this bridge without thinking of an incident that occurred there in 1999. Yes, 13 years ago, and the incident is still in my mind every time I cross the bridge. I told V about this, and she confirmed that she, too, often thinks of it.
This young lady’s name is Carson Prince. In 1999 she was the nineteen-year-old daughter of two attorneys, one of them the former mayor of our city.
In April 1999 drivers crossing from the North on this bridge called 911, reporting a struggle in a pick up truck also traveling along the bridge. As other drivers watched in horror, a young girl either jumped or was pushed from the moving vehicle, crashing her head against the guardrail. This picture is what it looks like as you cross the bridge, headed south, as was the truck on that day.
She died shortly afterward in the hospital with her shattered parents at her bedside.
This was nineteen-year-0ld Carson Prince, aspiring college student, typical trouble-with-mom teenager, beautiful spirit on the verge of exploring the world as an adult on her own; never quite making it.
Carson’s car was found half a mile away on the off-ramp. It was pulled to the side with an empty gas tank. A gas station was within walking distance of the car. Witness recall seeing a man who had stopped in a pickup truck, holding a gas can as if to give her aid.
No one knows for sure, but all believe that either Carson trusted him to take her to get fuel or that he forced her into the car. In any event, when he crossed the overpass and turned onto the Interstate instead of into the gas station, a mighty struggle ensued, which caught the attention of the 911 callers. I choose to believe that Carson, brave soul, jumped to her death rather than giving herself over to the clutches of a monster.
Despite a great deal of identifying information about the vehicle driven by her kidnapper, no arrest occurred. Five long years went by before a man stumbled into his local sheriff’s office in a small town west of us and confessed. Steve Talley confessed that on that April day he had “…gone looking for someone to rape…” He came across Carson. There are some public details—including the fact that he says he hit her in the head with a wrench because of her fight before she flew out of the car.
Talley went on to rape shortly after being thwarted by Carson. He shot a teen-aged boy point-blank, chased down his fleeing girlfriend and eventually strangled her to death. Their bodies were not found for those five long years prior to his confession.
Talley is now imprisoned without possibility of parole. Thank God.
It feels odd for me to write about a crime that occurred so long ago. I ask myself as I write why I am doing it, but I feel compulsion to do so. As I crossed the bridge this last time, I knew I would write about her. Why?
I think it is that young Carson Prince, whom I never met, has taught me lessons. And they are lessons I think over at least three or four times a year as I cross this bridge and think of her and of her family who will never be the same.
Carson taught me the lesson that there is no sense to life some times, let alone to death. Certainly there was no sense to be made of her death.
Carson taught me that evil walks among us. It is sometimes standing behind us in line at the grocery store; it sometimes shows up with a welcomed gas can to offer help when our tank is empty. Evil, too, is senseless. It is marauding, looking for its outlets. If foiled by a courageous escape from a moving truck, it will find outlet somewhere else.
Carson taught me to remember that we need to treasure each other, to relish the time we have with one another. We don’t know what’s around the corner.
But, in addition to thanking Carson for making me ponder these lessons from her life and death, there is another cause for my compulsion to write about her. I want her and everyone else who reads this to know that she is not forgotten; not by a long-shot. She is well-remembered by me, a stranger, at least each time that I go that way.
I’ll bet you there are many more out there just like me who think of Carson Prince as they drive that bridge.
Carson, rest in peace and know that
you are not forgotten.