Playing for Peaches
By Mark Baker
Photography by Reed Mattison. Originally reported in the Jackson Hole News&Guide, 2022.
DRIGGS, Idaho — Maybe she was trying to send a message?
After the thunder and lightning that canceled the final games of the 2022 Play for Peaches softball tournament here on Saturday night at Lions Park, huge raindrops, almost as big as the tears that fell, and continue to fall, for the girl they called the Georgia Peach and Curious Georgia and, sometimes, just “Peaches,” splashed from the eastern Idaho sky.
There would be no championship game this year for the Teton girls 12-and-under fast-pitch softball team, despite the 2-0 lead over the Rigby Rage in Saturday night’s semifinal game when it was called. But that didn’t stop what’s become an annual post-championship tradition at the tournament that was renamed last year after Georgia Elizabeth Durmeier, a Jackson Hole native who, along with her father and his fiancee, was killed in a head-on traffic crash caused by an admittedly intoxicated driver 87 miles northwest of Las Vegas on March 27, 2021.
Just as they did last year, Georgia’s teammates released butterflies provided by Georgia’s mother, Chelsea Roberts, a 2003 Jackson Hole High School graduate, into the summer air from the outfield at Driggs City Park. But this time they just did it a day later, on Sunday afternoon, a day after what would have been this year’s championship game if not for some bad weather.
“I just want to thank everyone,” Roberts began before pausing and struggling to continue as she dabbed tears with a napkin she was clutching in her right hand. “Keeping Georgia’s spirit alive ... it would mean so much to her. And it means a lot to me. You all just loved and accepted her.”
“I think it’s a great honor to Georgia, to ‘Peaches,’ and the person that she was,” Douglass told about 40 players, parents, other family members and fellow coaches Sunday, as he began to cry. “I got a lot of comments about how this is a good memorial, and a lot of teams just love to come and play. And this is a good reminder of why we do it, why we play this game. She was a sweetheart and she loved softball.”
As for why she tabbed Georgia “Peaches,” other than the obvious connection to the state symbol of Georgia, Clinton said at Sunday’s butterfly release: “OK, little girl. You’re so cute and so tiny and so squishy, I’m calling you Peaches. She was just a little spitfire and so amazing. She had such a special place in my heart.”
Georgia was on spring break with her father, Roberts’ ex-husband Michael Durmeier, 39, of Driggs, and his fiancee, Lauren Starcevich, 38, also of Driggs, and Georgia’s younger brother, Jackson, then nine days shy of 11, and Starcevich’s daughter, Emerson, then 6, when the crash happened.
According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, which conducted a months-long investigation of the crash for which Tyler Kennedy, 33, now faces a possible 60 years in prison when sentenced on July 19 in Nye County, Nevada, Michael Durmeier was driving Starcevich’s 2011 Toyota Highlander southbound on U.S. Highway 95 a few minutes before 4 p.m. that Saturday when Kennedy’s northbound Ford F-150 pickup swerved into their path at an estimated 90 mph. Photos published by the Review-Journal show that Starcevich’s totaled SUV landed upside-down while the left side of Kennedy’s pickup was almost sheared off.
Jackson, who was ejected from the vehicle and suffered unknown brain trauma, according to his mother, celebrated his 11th birthday last year in a Nevada hospital. Emerson suffered a broken wrist. Roberts is suing the Nye County Sheriff’s Office, according to the Review-Journal, for failing to perform sobriety tests on Kennedy about 2½ hours before the crash. Deputies had responded to a report of alleged shots fired at an RV Park on Highway 95 about 1:20 p.m. The manager of the RV Park alleged that Kennedy drove into the park, started an altercation and took a shot at him. Deputies found Kennedy across the highway at the Area 51 Alien Center Store where, according to the Las Vegas newspaper, he was smoking fentanyl.
The deputies who responded questioned Kennedy, determined his cellphone was mistaken for a gun, threw his drugs in the trash and let him go, according to the Review-Journal.
“Obviously, I want to see the cops punished,” Roberts said. “They should have arrested him and none of this would have happened.”
Kennedy, who pleaded guilty this past March to three counts of DUI causing death, according to the Review-Journal, said as much himself at a preliminary hearing: “They should have not let me go because a lot of the blame is going to be on them. If they would have arrested me, like they should have, the accident never would have happened. People never would have died.”
Added Jaycee Douglass, the coach’s daughter: “She was very uplifting. Whenever you were down she’d bring you up. She was daring, too.”
Jaycee remembered Georgia sticking up for her once when someone was giving her a hard time. Georgia held Jaycee back, cautioning her that it wasn’t worth it. But then it was Jaycee who had to hold Georgia back.
“She never put up with anybody’s crap,” former teammate Adeline Hansen said, bluntly, as the other girls laughed.
But then it was time for another butterfly release, those black-and-gold monarchs and orange-and-black painted ladies waiting patiently in those triangle-shaped envelopes labeled “We play for Peaches” that were nestled in a peach-colored bucket.
“I’m just really proud of all you girls, and I can’t thank you enough for being her friend, her teacher,” Roberts told them. “I know you all loved her a lot, because all of this just really means a lot to me and the community. I feel all the love. And Jackson does, too. And we thank you for everything.”