On a cold night in November 12, 2004 six teenagers in Ronkonkoma, New York bought a 20 pound turkey with a stolen credit card. While driving on Sunrise Highway, 18 year-old Ryan Cushing threw the frozen bird out the back window just for a thrill. The turkey hit Victoria Ruvolo’s car, shattering the windshield and smashed into her face. She was taken to the hospital with life-threatening injuries. She awoke several weeks later with no knowledge of what had happened.
When I looked in the mirror, I could see it was me but my whole face was smashed in and every single bone in my face was broken. I had no idea I’d had ten hours of surgery and I was shocked when the doctors told me that from now on, for the rest of my life, I would always have three titanium plates in my left cheek, one in my right cheek, and I’d also have a wire mesh holding my left eye in place because my left eye socket was so badly shattered.
Once I got off the medication, I remember lying in the bedroom at my sister’s house and just crying myself to sleep and asking: Why me God? What did I ever do so wrong and so terrible in my life that I deserved all this to happen to me? And I’d cry myself to sleep. But then, gradually, it began to dawn on me that perhaps God had allowed me to live through this ordeal because I was in such great physical condition. The idea that it had happened for a reason – and that I had saved someone else who might not have been able to survive – helped me get through rehabilitation.
Then the District Attorney informed me that the other teenagers who had been with Ryan had entered a plea bargain to testify against him. This, coupled with overwhelming evidence, was enough to put Ryan in jail for 25 years. It was at this point that I started asking questions about Ryan.
Had he always been a bully? Was he always hurting other people? What could possibly have built up inside him so bad that he had to throw something so hard? Because I’d experienced the death of two brothers when I was much younger, I felt strongly that I didn’t want be responsible for taking this other young person’s life. I didn’t want Ryan to rot in jail.
That’s when I asked to meet with Ryan’s lawyer to be able to tell him that I wanted an amnesty for Ryan or at least a lesser sentence.
On the day we went to court, I saw this young man walk in wearing a suit which looked like it was three times too big for him; it made him seem so frail. He walked in with his head hung down and looked so upset with himself. When I saw him there, my heart went out to him. To me he looked like a lost soul.
Once the case was over and it was time for him to walk out, he started veering over towards where I was sitting and every court officer was ready to jump on him. They had no idea why he was coming towards me but as he walked over to where I was sitting and stood in front of me, I saw that all he was doing was crying, crying profusely. He looked at me and said, ‘I never meant this to happen to you, I prayed for you every day. I’m so glad you’re doing well.’ Then this motherly instinct just came over me and all I could do was take him and cuddle him like a child and tell him ‘just do something good with your life, take this experience and do something good with your life.’
Because I asked for amnesty for Ryan, he received a six-month prison sentence with five years probation of community service and psychiatric help. Some people couldn’t understand why I’d done this but I felt God had given me a second chance and I wanted to pass it on. I know I did the right thing. Kids like Ryan don’t think about what they do. They think they’re invincible and everything will be OK. They don’t think about how every action has a reaction.
For his community service Ryan was directed to speak to youth in a program that, Robert Goldman, JD, Psy.D., supervising psychologist for the Suffolk County Probation Department, created. When he finished his one year of community service Ryan volunteered to continue for another three years. Victoria is now working with Dr. Goldman speaking to youth about the importance of forgiveness. They have recently co-authored a book titled, “No Room For Vengeance in Justice and Healing”.
Victoria Ruvolo passed away on 25th March 2019.