BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A Baton Rouge survivor of domestic abuse is once again raising awareness about the dangers of abusive relationships one day after a man fatally shot his ex-girlfriend in Walker, then killed himself by jumping of the Mississippi River Bridge after igniting a multi-parish police chase.
Ricardo Diaz, 43, fatally shot Lydia Johnston, 31, multiple times in their Walker home off Gaylord Road Monday night in front of their four children. Three other children were also in the home at the time of the shooting. Diaz then allegedly lead police on a wild chase to the Mississippi River Bridge in West Baton Rouge Parish, where police say he jumped to his death.
Livingston Parish Sheriff Jason Ard calls it a clear case of domestic violence. "We believe that she had sparked a new relationship and he was having issues with it," said Ard. "We have actually arrested him for violation of a restraining order as recently as last month."
It's a story that has become all too familiar, and for Kenyona Vessel, 26, it hits close to home.
Almost four years ago, she too was a victim. He boyfriend, Michael Terrell Lewis, was arrested and convicted of running over her in December of 2014 and leaving her for dead. Vessel's leg and pelvic bone were shattered in the process and doctors had to amputate her right leg.
"Every time I hear about this kind of situation, I just know that it could have been me. I was so close to death," said Vessel.
Vessel is now still learning to live without one of her legs and says she suffers with constant pain. "My neck was torn off. They had to put a metal plate in my neck and I also have a metal plate in my lower spine," Vessel added.
Vessel says perhaps the worst part of the ordeal is that while her attacker did face jail time, he has since been released. She told WAFB's Scottie Hunter the charges for her abuser were reduced to hit and run and that he only served about six to seven months of his five year sentence, plus probation. She does have a restraining order in place, like the victim in Walker, but she now lives with the daily nightmare that he could strike again.
"He can't have any contact with me, but he roams around freely, you know, and I could become this lady," said Vessel. "This lady that just passed, I could become that. Every day I think about that. I think about it every day and I pray that God protects me."
She says she cannot live in fear though and believes her family and faith in God are the only things that keep her strong. "God will bless your mess and turn it into a message," she added. "I am a living testimony to that."
Hearing about yet another case of abuse in our community is one too many for her, and Vessel believes to truly end this cycle of violence, more needs to change, including stricter punishment for abusers. "We need justice. They should lock these people down," said Vessel.
More than anything else though, she says it has never been more important that victims know their worth and get out while they can. "If I knew that back then how much life there was to live, I would have been left," she said. "I wish I would have loved myself more."
The Walker case remains under investigation at this time.