Opinion Columns & Blogs

Story of fiery, conflicted woman ends in tragedy

Whether by design or accident, Elizabeth Donnelly-Scales died in San Luis Obispo when nurses at Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center, with her husband’s approval, unhooked her from life support at 11:40 a.m. Tuesday. She was 32.

It’s unknown how long Elizabeth had been in the county; family and friends say she left her Southern California home in early June after separating from Gene Scales, her general contractor husband of less than two years.

What is known is that after leaving her apartment in Palm Desert, by mid-June she’d made her way north to San Bernardino.

According to family friend Connie Holzer, an 80-year-old man had called Elizabeth’s mother and told her he had met her daughter and that she had been beaten. From San Bernardino, she was next heard from in Pomona. On June 25, she left a note on her Facebook page telling Gene that she was in Ventura and was wondering where he was. According to Holzer, an elderly woman who lived in Ventura County said Elizabeth had been treated for injuries at hospitals in Ojai and Ventura.

And then nothing — until July 15 and 16 when she was contacted in Cayucos by county sheriff’s deputies who were concerned about her facial traumas.

The following day, around 2 p.m., San Luis Obispo police found Elizabeth on a bus bench near City Hall and took the unconscious woman to Sierra Vista, where she died three days later.

Elizabeth Donnelly-Scales had an upbringing that may be key to her death, husband Gene believes. Born in Saudi Arabia to a father who is in the oil business, she was raised by a single mother without siblings after her father left home before she was 1. Although he wasn’t a factor in her upbringing, according to Holzer, he did provide a trust fund that she lived on.

She was a smart, vivacious teen who made friends easily. She loved to laugh, go camping, hike and have fun. “She had a joy of life; loved music, the outdoors, life, art and music. She had a great soul and was kind of wild,” says Gene.

While in high school in Palm Desert, she played tennis so competitively she had the makings of a pro, he adds. But it was also then that a dark side began to emerge: she loved to drink.

Her preferred drink was vodka. According to Gene, who met her in a Palm Desert rehab facility three years ago, she could drink from morning until passing out, wake up and start a fresh jag. She entered her first of five rehab attempts while still a teen.

Apparently Elizabeth had been clean for five years before relapsing and meeting Gene in rehab. During that time she obtained a Bachelor of Science degree in natural health from Clayton College in Birmingham, Ala.

A check on Clayton reveals that it’s a nonaccredited correspondence college that offers degrees based on the study of herbology, iridology, nutrition and lifestyles. Blasted by critics as a diploma mill, it was “preparing to cease operation” this month, according to the Birmingham News.

In 2008, she opened Fully Alive in Palm Desert, an alternative medicine practice that went nowhere, according to Gene, because of a fizzling economy.

The following year, Elizabeth earned certification from the California Association of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Counselors and worked at Trinity Family services as a counselor for teens and adults.

According to her Linkedin site, she says of herself: “Elizabeth adopted the notion that we deserve to be healthy in mind, body and spirit — ‘whole being’ health. Living and educating people to be ‘Fully Alive’ became her life’s ambition and dream.”

An autopsy Thursday tentatively found that Elizabeth had overdosed on alcohol, according to authorities, although the case remains open for San Luis Obispo police as a suspicious death.

Talking to friends and family of Elizabeth is to be introduced to a restless, free spirit who was on a constant path in search of who she was and where she fit in. Hers was an odyssey marked by Jekyll-like periods of friend-filled days pursuing outdoor activities with good health, punctuated by Hyde-like lows where she would blindly run in panic, fueled by self-doubt and vodka.

By the time Elizabeth Donnelly-Scales brought her bruised and beaten body to a San Luis Obispo bus bench a week ago, she could go no further, and her Jekylls were no longer an option.