Friends and family of Madison County Sheriff's Deputy Rosemary Vela said the 24-year-old mother touched the lives of every person she met and was never without a smile.
"She was really amazing," Britany Dorado said. "She had that kind of personality that would draw you in."
Dorado said she met Vela almost three years ago, when the two worked in Crockett County, and Vela was one of her best friends.
Late Monday night, Vela was killed in a single-car crash on U.S. Highway 70 when she was called as back-up for another deputy in the Huntersville area. Madison County Sheriff's Office spokesman Tom Mapes said sometime between 10:30 and 11 p.m., Vela's car went off the road.
"While in heavy rain, Deputy Vela's vehicle left the road, hit a tree and came to rest in a creek," Sheriff John Mehr said. "She was pronounced dead at the scene. She is survived by her 5-year-old son." Two deputies found her patrol car in the creek after tracking her cellphone.
Vela's son's aunt, Rachael Wilkes, said Vela was dedicated to her son, Jayden.
"She was a hardworking, dedicated mother," Wilkes said. "Her number one priority was always Jayden's safety and happiness."
Wilkes said her husband's brother is Jayden's father.
"My husband, Freddie, said she (Rosemary) was the essence of what it means to be a mother," Wilkes said.
Dorado said Vela was always busy with school and work, but made time to help Jayden with his kindergarten tests and homework. Dorado said Vela's son came home with a perfect score on a test his mom helped him work toward, and was excited to show her his grade.
"I loved to hear her stories about him," Dorado said. "She was always looking out for her son."
Both Wilkes and Dorado said Vela was independent and determined.
"She was a beautiful person, very independent," Wilkes said.
"She could conquer any battle before her," Dorado said.
Vela recently graduated from Bethel University with a bachelor's degree in criminal justice. Dorado said Vela was her biggest support system when Dorado went through the police academy before joining the Brownsville Police Department earlier this year. They worked together in Crockett County, when Vela was a deputy sheriff and Dorado worked in the jail.
"She was one of my biggest cheerleaders," Dorado said. "She was a devoted and loyal friend."
Wilkes said she and Vela still called one another sisters and were instantly friends after meeting more than five years ago.
"We considered each other sisters instantly," she said. "We always got along great from the start. Even after they separated, we still referred to each other as sisters."
For Wilkes and Dorado, their friend's death came too soon, and their feelings are still being processed.
"She was just a great person. She touched lives all over," Dorado said. "I'm devastated. I'm shocked. I'm a lot of negative emotions."
"Still trying to process it," Wilkes said in a Facebook message. "Sad, mad, a little of everything."
Vela's death is something Dorado said will affect many people beyond family, friends and law enforcement officers. Vela's constant smile and happy attitude will be missed in both Crockett and Madison counties.
"Her loss will be felt all over. There are so many lives she touched," Dorado said. "She's gone too soon."
Wilkes said Vela's death is still surreal.
"Her outward beauty is obvious at first glance, but it's special when you find someone who's just as beautiful on the inside," Wilkes said. "None of this seems real."
Facebook posts began circulating Tuesday morning of badges reading "Deputy Sheriff Madison County TN" with a black band across them. Flags at the Madison and Crockett County Sheriff's Offices were flying at half-staff on Tuesday in honor of Vela. A marker board in the Crockett County Sheriff's Office carried a new message on Tuesday afternoon: "We love and miss you. Today our Rosemary became an angel."
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