By Raiza Giorgi

The current memorial cross for longtime Santa Ynez Valley resident Laura Cleaves cannot be seen from Highway 154 unless you are really looking for it. It currently sits in the spot where she was killed almost 12 years ago by a drunk driver, down the side of the embankment where her car came to a rest. 

“Even though it has been 12 years, to me it feels like she passed away yesterday,” said her daughter Krista Cleaves Robert. “It’s a horrible feeling that never goes away. I feel like she did so much for so many people and I don’t feel like I have done enough to honor her.” 

Robert has started the process with Caltrans to get a memorial sign erected, and within eight days she raised the $1,200 necessary to get the sign put up. The GoFundMe has actually raised more than what was needed.

Cleaves, 53, suffered fatal injuries on May 1, 2008, in a head-on collision on Highway 154, just a few miles from her home. The driver of the vehicle that killed Cleaves was Ashley Johnigan, 22 at the time of the accident, who was driving with a blood alcohol content of .24, according to past media reports of her sentencing. She was found guilty of second-degree murder, vehicular manslaughter and two misdemeanor drunken-driving counts. She received 15 years to life and is eligible for parole in 2021 after serving at least 12 years of her sentence. 

Cleaves was a senior investigator with the Santa Barbara County District Attorney/s Office, and she was known in the valley as “Martha Stewart with a gun.” She was an avid horsewoman, teaching lessons on the weekends, and her Christmas decorating skills were unparalleled. She also helped at Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory in Solvang by making fudge occasionally. 

“She was defiantly a woman who could do it all and still made time to bake cookies for Halloween and Valentine’s Day for my sister and I as well as our entire class,” Robert wrote. 

She added her mother was up before the sun feeding and caring for her horses and home in time to make a home-cooked meal for her family. 

“She inspired me to go into the medical field and help others,” Robert said.

Robert is currently an EMT/nurse at a hospital near Coeur D’Alene, Idaho. 

“I am very thankful for everyone who donated to get this sign created in memory of my mom, and hope to see it up soon,” she said.

Robert said she was not sure how long it would take to get the sign created and erected, and as of press time Caltrans wasn’t able to be reached.