Actress and former model Rebecca Gayheart is beautiful, sexy and talented. For two years, she was recognizable solely for her work on television commercials as the Noxzema Girl. Her hypnotic eyes and silky hair are enough to get anyone's attention. The commercials lead to a role on a daytime soap, a popular teen drama, as well as roles in films. Things were looking good for her until a car accident claimed a little boy's life and changed hers forever.
Rebecca Gayheart was born in Hazard, Kentucky to coal miner Curtis Gayheart and his wife, Floneva, a homemaker. Raised in Pinetop, Kentucky, not far from where she was born, Rebecca has two brothers and one sister and is of Italian, Irish, German and Cherokee heritage.
She decided to move to New York when she was 15 years old where she would be closer to the things she loved to do, acting and modeling. After spending the summer modeling, she completed high school at New York's Professional Children's School, then went on to the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute, where she would study for two and a half years.
It was 1990 when she came upon her first big modeling job at 18 years old. Rebecca gained national recognition as the "Noxzema Girl." In 1992, she was cast as Hannah Mayberry on the ABC daytime soap Loving. Hannah was a troubled young lady who developed a fatal attraction for her professor In 1995, the show ended. After that, Rebecca moved to Los Angeles and was cast in Beverly Hills 90210 as Antonia "Toni" Marchette, the beautiful daughter of Anthony Marchette, a very dangerous man. Rebecca's departure from the show came later the same year when her character's father ordered a hit on her new husband, but she was shot and killed instead.
On June 13, 2001, at about 2:40 p.m., Rebecca Gayheart was driving a 1996 Jeep Grand Cherokee when she struck a 9-year-old boy as he crossed the street near Bronson Avenue and Carlton Way in Hollywood. According to police reports, several cars stopped for the boy, but Rebecca came up behind them, allegedly driving over 40 miles per hour in a 25 M.P.H. zone, heading to her home in a friend's vehicle because her car was in the shop. The boy was rushed to Children's Hospital in Los Angeles.
Rebecca's parents came to Los Angeles to be with her. Also by her side was her friend and former fiancé, director Brett Ratner, whom she had called just hours after the accident. They described her as "emotionally distraught." She was hysterical and calling the hospital to leave messages for the family, asking if there was anything she could do. There was nothing anyone could do. The boy was pronounced dead the next morning.
She offered the boy's parents $10,000 to cover funeral expenses, which the couple who couldn't afford much, accepted. Rebecca also asked permission to attend the Catholic service, and although the boy's father consented, the actress wasn't among those paying their final respects to the boy, laid out in the uniform of his favorite soccer team. Although she wanted to be there, she was advised against it.
"There may have been people there who would be angry with her," said one of her attorneys who didn't think her presence at the funeral service was a good idea.
Rebecca spent weeks composing a letter to the family in an attempt to express her sorrow. Nothing could take away their pain. "All we really wanted was our son back," the boy's father said.
Sued for Wrongful Death
In August of 2001, the boy's parents filed a lawsuit against Rebecca Gayheart claiming she was negligent when the car she was driving struck and killed their 9-year-old son. They sought medical, hospital and funeral expenses, along with other damages.
She responded to the charges in a statement, expressing "sorrow and regret" over the incident, but denying there was negligence
"There are no words to express my sorrow and regret over the accident. I send my prayers, thoughts and deepest sympathy to the family, she said. "Despite the allegations in the lawsuit, the facts will establish that this was a most unfortunate accident. The pain of this tragedy will live with me forever."
Police interviewed her at the scene, but because alcohol was not a factor, she was not arrested. "The vehicle was driven in an unsafe and negligent manner," said the attorney for the boy's family. "The defendant did not yield the right of way to the pedestrian and furthermore was inattentive." He also claimed that she was using a cell phone at the time of the accident. Both police and her attorney denied those allegations.
"It was a young boy who was jaywalking, and he was running across the street when he was struck by the car," said her attorney. "This is a tragic loss for everyone." "It was a horrifying thing for her. Our client has already paid for their funeral expenses...and she wanted to do anything she could to help the family."
The attorney for the family told E! News Daily that the family is in "deep grief" following the incident and insisted that "the fact that Rebecca Gayheart is an actress really is no concern" to the couple. "The family is seeking justice."
In January of 2002, attorneys for both the family and the actress announced that the case had been settled out of court. Per the family's request, the terms of settlement remained confidential. The settlement was said to be "amicable" as well as something that allowed both parties to achieve a sense of closure. While it's unknown whether the actress made cash payment to the family, she did pay for the boy's hospital and funeral expenses and had offered to pay for grief counseling for the parents.
Charged With Manslaughter
In September of, 2001, The Los Angeles City Attorney's office confirmed that it was moving forward with a misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter charge against Rebecca Gayheart. The decision to charge her came after the Los Angeles District Attorney declined to press a more serious felony charge. The District Attorney's office said detectives failed to provide evidence of gross negligence, in other words, whether alcohol or drugs were a contributing factor in her ability to drive at the time of the accident. The city attorney's office, however, determined the police investigation did turn up enough evidence to charge the actress with the lesser count.
She was facing up to a year in county jail. In November of 2001, she pleaded no contest to the misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter charge. In exchange for her plea, she was sentenced to three years probation, a one-year suspension of her license, a $2,800 fine and 750 hours of community service. She was also ordered to make a public service announcement.
Visibly shaken, Rebecca said nothing to reporters as she entered and exited she Los Angeles courtroom. Her attorney held an impromptu press conference outside the courthouse. He said she would likely perform her community service by addressing schoolchildren, parents and motorists on proper street-crossing safety and driving awareness. Her PSA would also pick up that theme.
"They're thinking about a video that really highlights the dangers of jaywalking, of drivers who don't stop when other cars have stopped and parents who don't properly educate their children," he said.
Lives Forever Changed
The boy was described as a determined student with dreams of growing up to be a professional soccer player. Those dreams will never be realized. He talked about it with his family. When he did, he beamed with enthusiasm. He was a great source of love and joy to them. All they have now are memories and the pain of losing a child. He had two sisters. At the time of his death, the oldest was 2, the other, 7 months old. They won't remember their big brother, but their parents will tell them all about him when they are older.
Rebecca Gayheart was well on her way stardom. Her once promising career seems to be a thing of the past. Her name, once synonymous with fresh-faced beauty and talent, is now linked to a tragic death. She will never forget June 13, 2001 or the little boy who was crossing the street on his way home from school.
Whatever Happened to Mason Reese (1990) - Director Brett Ratner's 12 minute production as a student at New York University. Slick and silly, a mostly fictional/partly factual look at the life and times of Mason Reese, that annoying rugrat who sold Underwood Deviled Ham back in the 1970s.
Loving (TV Series) (1983-1995) - Love, betrayal and a power struggle centers around a wealthy family in the fictional town of Corinth, Pennsylvania.
Vanishing Son (1994) - Brothers Jian-Wa and Wago in the People's Republic of China are forced to flee out of China after having taken part in a protest action for freedom. They come to America and try to build a new life. As time passes, one of the brothers pursues a musical career while the other gets entangled in a criminal organization.
Vanishing Son III (1994) - The saga picks up in Washington, D.C. where Jian-wa is competing in a classical music competition. Back in LA, Jian-wa's brother Wago, is wanted by the F.B.I. and manage to pull Jian-wa back to L.A. for questioning. They also want him to infiltrate his brother's gang in order to save Wago. Can Jian-wa get Wago to see the truth about things before it's too late?
Vanishing Son IV (1994) - After the death of his brother, Wago, Jian-wa now roams America's countryside while looking for his place in the world. He is hit by a van and is taken in and nursed by a secluded artist. He's also befriended by Wago's ghost, who must act as an angel to Jian-wa in order gain acceptance into heaven.
Earth 2 (1994) - A woman and her crew are in search of a new home for the human race. Government forces want to destroy the ship of the colonists, but they manage to escape and arrive in orbit around "Earth 2". There the crew faces some technical problems and they crash land on the planet. Soon they find out that the earth like planet is inhabited by intelligent humanoid life.
Earth 2 (TV Series) (1994-1995) - In the future, the human race is living in space stations orbiting a dead earth. Faced with a debilitating disease attacking her young son, a woman and a band of non-conformists leave their artificial environment and travel to a distant planet, where they begin a new life for themselves.
Beverly Hills, 90210 (TV Series) (1990-2000) - The long-running primetime teen drama which was originally based around the lives of a group of high school students living in the wealthy Beverly Hills neighborhood, then later moving on to their college days as they got older.
Somebody Is Waiting (1996) - Despite his good-hearted nature, a young boy can't stay out of trouble. When a tragic turn of events costs his mother her life, he blames himself. His abusive and alcoholic father returns to "take care of" him, his two brothers, and his sister. His father's drinking continues, and when an argument culminates in his death, the boy is on the run, not only from the law, but from himself as well.
Invasion (TV Series) (1997) - Small rocks fall from the sky which, when touched, trigger a latent virus that has always existed in humans and begins mutating them into an alien species. The aliens are dedicated to transforming every human on earth and only a small group of humans remain who have the medical knowledge to devise antibodies to reverse the effects of the virus.
Nothing to Lose (1997) A man's life couldn't get any worse. He discovers he has been living a lie and is on the verge of a nervous breakdown. So when a carjacker attempts to rob him, it's the last straw for him. With everything to gain and nothing to lose, he kidnaps the thief and attempts to put his life back together.
Scream 2 (1997) - Two years after the tragic events at Woodsboro. two young people are trying to get on with their lives, but it's not so easy when "The Woodsboro Murders" is a best-selling book about to hit the film screen, the man imprisoned for the murders is now free and trying to cash in on his unfortunate incarceration and a new cycle of death begins.
Hercules (TV Series) (1998-1999) - A weekly cartoon series following the Disney movie. The series delivered moral messages with humor that made it possible for adults to enjoy along with the kids.
Urban Legend (1998) - When a female student sets out to get to the bottom of Pendleton's own 30-year-old urban legend about a massacre of students at the hand of an abnormal psych professor, she discovers his demented purpose to fashion the ultimate urban legend, with none other than her lifeless body as its centerpiece.
Hairshirt (1998) - A comedy about a self-obsessed man runs through one woman after another. One of his rejected former lovers decides to take it upon herself to see to it that he never develops another relationship and sets out in attack when he falls for an actress.
Jawbreaker (1999) - Three of the most popular girls at a high school accidentally kill the prom queen with a jawbreaker when a kidnapping goes horribly wrong.
Wasteland (TV Series) (1999) - The story of six young people as their lives interact and they struggle with coming-of-age in New York City shortly after college.
Puppet (1999) - A young couple has no idea of the terrifying danger they attract when the husband buys his wife a gift to celebrate their marriage. The beautifully hand-crafted Russian puppet he bought in suburban New York contains a fortune in smuggled jewels from the fabled collection of the last Czar.
From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman's Daughter (2000) - Set 100 years ago in Mexico, this horror/western is the story of the birth of the vampire princess Santanico Pandemonium.
Shadow Hours (2000) - A recovering alcoholic/drug user is back on the wagon and responsible for a young, beautiful and pregnant wife. Working the graveyard shift at a gas station to support his new family drives him crazy. A wealthy stranger then enters his life and takes him on a tour of the most seedy part of L.A. Is the stranger leading the troubled young man to hell, or salvation?
Urban Legends: Final Cut (2000) - An Alpine University student struggles to complete her thesis film on urban legends, only to have her crew members fall prey to fatal accidents. Suspicious, she investigates and discovers a much more sinister hand at work. she must unmask the killer before she, too, becomes an urban legend.
Doppelganger (2001) - A young man reveals the details of his lusty dreams to his girlfriend. When she stays awake to watch him sleep, she finds that he has a clone who wants to take over.
Harvard Man (2001) - The point guard for the Harvard basketball team is dating the daughter of a mob boss and strikes a deal with the mob to fix a basketball game.
Pipe Dream (2002) - A lonely plumber poses as a director to meet women, and the writer whose script he's stolen builds on his ruse to get her movie made.
Dead Like Me (TV Series) (2003) - A dark comedy about a young woman who dies when she's hit on the head by a piece of debris from the MIR space station. She soon discovers that there is life after death, and she has a job waiting for her there, as a reaper, someone who escorts souls out of the living world and into the afterlife.