SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) --You may not know Eddie Rapoza's name, but you probably remember what he did. October 6, 2002, Rapoza drove the family minivan off a Moss Beach cliff killing his wife, Raye, who was seven months pregnant and their 4-year-old daughter, Tehani. Convicted of murder, Rapoza received a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole; he's now at Pleasant Valley State Prison in Coalinga.
Before his trial, Rapoza agreed to do an interview with me claiming it was a terrible accident -- that he didn't mean to kill his family. The jail put me off for days, until the judge placed a gag order on the case. In the years since, Rapoza has written me several times. In the last letter, he wrote, "Please Dan Noyes, don't turn your back on love and justice."
Last month, I interviewed the man who pulled Rapoza from the mangled van that had come to rest in the ocean, down the 150-foot cliff. Mike Zerbe was never called as a witness, and he told me Rapoza was shouting, "My foot was stuck, my foot was stuck," when he swam up to him. Zerbe said Rapoza had the straps of a cloth cooler wrapped around his right foot at the time of the rescue. Of course, I wondered, could the cooler have gotten caught around Rapoza's foot, right before the accident? Could that have pinned the accelerator down?
Next stop for me was the San Mateo District Attorney's Office. I received access to seven boxes of Rapoza case files including the evidence, the crime scene and autopsy photographs, trial transcripts and reports. And that is where the story ended for me.
Police reports and court documents show a history of domestic abuse, and one passage from November 21, 1985 when the Rapozas lived in Hawaii was especially prescient. I'm including the document here; you can see Raye's handwriting: "Eddie is always verbally abusive every day. He calls me names. He tells me I'm never leaving him and that he will kill me then kill himself before he lets me leave... When we drive in the car and he gets upset, he drives recklessly saying that if I don't shut up he will drive us both off a cliff."
What are the odds that a guy threatens to kill his wife by driving off a cliff, and seven years later, he "accidentally" does just that?
The case files also contain transcripts of interviews police did with Rapoza while he was still in the hospital after the crash. He said they argued because he was suspicious about his wife leaving him for another man. Rapoza said he stopped the van at the Moss Beach cliff and told Raye he was going to kill himself by driving off: "I told Raye to take Tehani out... She tried to call my bluff. Alright, I said, 'I love you guys a lot, I, I love you both... She refused to get out."