Editor’s note: Former Wyoming House speaker Nels Smith and his wife Jeanette were two of three people killed in a head-on crash when Smith’s car crossed the center line on U.S. 85 last weekend. The third was Alicia Rodriguez, a 44-year-old mother and grandmother from Torrington. This is her story.
There seemed to be no limit to Alicia Rodriguez’s willingness to help others, a devotion that sometimes even came at her own expense, said her brother, Ryan Schilreff.
“She was just always giving, and sometimes it was probably at the detriment of her quality of life,” Schilreff said. “She would drop anything at any time for anybody and go help them.”
If there are three traits that could describe Rodriguez most, it was hard working, giving and loving. All three were at the core of the way Rodriguez lived every day of her life.
Rodriguez, 44, died in a car head-on crash last week on U.S. 85 when another car crossed the center line and hit hers while driving home from work in Lingle, leaving behind two children and four grandchildren.
Schilreff said he’s coping with the loss with some words of wisdom he believes his sister would say in this type of situation.
“She would tell you, ‘Yeah it’s tough, but somebody else has it tougher than us right now, so keep moving forward,’” Schilreff said.
Rodriguez also leaves an empty space in the hearts and minds of the many people who called her a friend. Diane Servantez was her friend for more than 30 years and said the crash and her sudden death has been stunning.
“It was her ability to make you feel like you were the most important person in the room,” Servantez said. “She gave you all of her attention when you needed it.”
Schilreff said what struck him most about these friendships was their tightknit nature and that many seemingly would take a bullet for his sister. The feeling was reciprocated by Rodriguez, who was “a warrior for her people,” Servantez added.
Trista Schelling-Flores knew Rodriguez for 22 years as the two raised their children together in the same neighborhood. During the summer months, they would sit together on their lawn chairs while their children played nearby, both sharing stories of the daily struggles and joys that come with motherhood.
Despite being a single mother, Rodriguez was always willing to lend a hand when Schelling-Flores needed it, and vice-versa.
“I don’t think I’ve met anyone who did know her that didn’t love her,” she said.
Duty To Help
Servantez said it was likely because of Rodriguez’s ceaseless dedication to helping and supporting others that drew so many to her. Schilreff said rarely would a time go by that she wasn’t helping someone, whether cooking up a fresh batch of enchiladas and tamales in her kitchen or babysitting a friend’s children.
“She was the world’s best cheerleader for her friends,” Servantez said.
There was a time when Servantez and a friend thought they were taking her under their wing for guidance, but in reality it was likely Rodriguez was helping them.
Servantez and the friend both served as police officers in the past, but Rodriguez still helped both grasp a better understanding of the nuances of crime and substance abuse, and that not everything in life is black and white.
“You have to see the gray in between the black and white,” Servantez said.
She also wasn't afraid to deliver hard truths, Servantez said, giving feedback on her clothing and hairstyle choices, good or bad.
“She wouldn’t talk behind your back, she’d just tell you straight to your face,” Servantez said with a laugh.
There Through The Worst
When Servantez’s son took his own life in 2020, Rodriguez dropped everything for her, making the trip the next day from Idaho to Colorado where Servantez was. For the next six months, Rodriguez would pull Servantez out of bed each morning to face the world.
“It’s a tragic loss for us because she was all her friends’ rock,” Servantez said. Rodriguez was “the person you go to that you knew would always set us straight.”
Rodriguez raised her two children on her own and did so with grace and dedication, Servantez said. Not only did she often work two or three jobs, Servantez remembers her taking hair appointments as late as 9 and 10 p.m. to support her family.
“A lot of times we’d go in there and sit with her and wait for her to get done,” she said.
Rodriguez, a cosmetologist, was almost just as dedicated to her customers, allowing them time to make payments for their hair styling. She also helped organize a cut-a-thon in the local community where hair stylists would cut hair and donate the money to a good cause.
“That’s what she was doing on her little time off,” Servantez said.
But it was the care and understanding Rodriguez gave to others that truly defined her. Servantez said she was known to take children and adults into her home who would otherwise be on the streets, even while she was struggling to make ends meet taking care of her own.
“She would take them into her house and become Momma Alicia,” Servantez said.
She also continued a friendship with a man who had been incarcerated and would cut and dye hair at the Wyoming Women’s Center prison in Lusk. Schilreff described his sister as someone who gave “many chances.”
“She didn’t judge anybody by the amount of money you had, whether you had a ton or nothing or anything, she just judged you by your character,” Schilreff said. “If she thought you had potential she would be in your corner. If she was in your corner, she wasn’t leaving it either.”
Rodriguez was highly involved in her grandchildren’s lives and helped raise them in her own home. At one point, she took them on a trip to Las Vegas, stretch limo and all.
“She’s the only grandma that probably I’ll ever know that rented a limo for her kids to drive down the strip in Vegas just so they could experience this trip,” Servantez said. “She would just do anything for them.”
Servantez said Rodriguez was still teaching her daughter how to be a mom, while Schelling-Flores said her son has substance abuse issues and is in jail.
“It’s going to be really tough for them because they’re both so young and on their own,” she said. “We can never do as much justice as Alicia did for her family, but we’ll definitely all try.”
Later in life, Rodriguez worked for Oftedal Construction and eventually earned a high-paying opportunity with the company that took her on trips to other states. Even though she enjoyed the benefits and took the job to support her grandkids, Servantez said Rodriguez realized no amount of money could make up for the time she was missing with her family.
She took a pay cut and came home to work in Lusk.
Servantez said Rodriguez had dreams of going back to college and opening her own mental health and substance abuse facility, even reaching out to an economic development group in Goshen County for help with the project.
Despite only having an associate degree in cosmetology, Servantez, who has a master’s degree in prevention, said Rodriguez had more knowledge about addiction than she. The two shared many conversations about recidivism and that prison is not always the best solution to create change in people’s lives.
“It wasn’t like ‘that sucks,’ she was like, ‘what can we do to change it,’” Servantez said. “That was just her, she was going to fight her fight.”
Unfortunately, that dream will go unfulfilled.
A funeral will be held for Rodriguez on Saturday, which Servantez said is expected to be attended by as many as 200 people. That was the kind of impact Rodriguez left on the world.
Servantez said the Torrington community is devastated by the loss, which “spread like wildfire when it hit,” Schelling-Flores said. A bouquet of flowers was left in her memory on her skid-steer at Oftedal.
“It wasn’t even one of the workers, it was just some random person from Lusk,” Servantez said. “We don’t even know the people that she knows or how she impacted that person.
“That’s the kind of person Alicia was.”
Leo Wolfson can be reached at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com.