Beloved Valley Center couple struck, killed by accused drunken driver remembered

VALLEY CENTER, Calif. - A beloved Valley Center couple was remembered by friends, family and the community on Saturday.

Prosecutors say Carl and Eunice Ackerman were struck and killed by a drunken and distracted driver in July while the two were out for a routine morning walk.

About 50 or so people attended the solemn and somewhat uplifting ceremony for a couple who dedicated their lives to helping others and without a doubt, loved their community.

"They will truly, truly be missed by Valley Center and the community," said a close family friend.

Another family friend of the Ackermans said, "Their physical presence is gone. Their memories will be there in the hearts and minds of those who live in that area for a long, long time to come."

Carl and Eunice Ackerman had lived in Valley Center for 25 years and were loved by many.

They were known for their daily walks together, sometimes to clean up trash others had carelessly left behind.

"We would see Eunice and Carl walking and say, 'Guys, it's too hot' or 'Get off the road, it's really busy' ... 'No, we're OK. We're OK, we've got trash to pick up,'" said a friend of the Ackermans at the memorial.

On the morning of July 7, their walk turned out to be anything but routine, as the couple was hit from behind by a car going about 75 miles per hour.

The 21-year-old driver, Earl Smith, Jr., a local sailor, was arrested and pleaded not guilty to two counts of vehicular manslaughter and two counts related to drunken driving. His blood alcohol level, according to authorities, was .12 when tested an hour and a half after the crash.

"The defendant was distracted, looking at his cellphone, the GPS on his phone at the time he drove off the road and struck the Ackermans," said Christy Bowles, a Vista deputy district attorney.

Sheldon Belhumer, Smith's friend, said, "I knew he shouldn't have been driving. He told me he was going to sleep in his car."

He did not, and now those who loved Carl and Eunice Ackerman are left grieving, even though they are doing everything they can to remain upbeat.

"It's just been amazing and tragic … Amazing and tragic how it's impacted the whole community," said another friend of the Ackermans.

Smith could face 15 years in prison if convicted. His bail remains set at $1 million.

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