A broken and grieving mother spoke from her hospital bed about her two little girls who died in a crash and the boyfriend who is behind bars for their deaths.
Tubes threaded into Chanelle Torry's arm and chest. A body cast kept the broken bones in her back and torso steady. And the 28-year-old's face was still swollen and bruised Thursday from the crash that she doesn't remember.
“Those babies were my world,” she said, surrounded by tearful family members in her room at the Nebraska Medical Center.
Mela Skye Torry, 5, and Laela Torry-Tooley, 4, died when a sport utility vehicle flipped and rolled down a ravine near 87th and Quest Streets about 12:15 a.m. Wednesday.
The girls' sister, 17-month-old Bri'Elle A. Torry, escaped injury.
Their mother's boyfriend, Christopher D. Phelps, 35, was charged with two counts of motor vehicle homicide.
Authorities say Phelps was drunk while driving the SUV — that he had a blood alcohol content of at least .16 percent, twice the legal driving limit.
“I just wish I could tell my girls I love them one last time,” said Torry, who remains in serious condition at the hospital.
Mela Skye and Laela were inseparable balls of energy, said Laela's father, Blake Tooley, who was also involved in Mela Skye's life.
“I just feel sick. I can't eat. I miss them,” Tooley said.
The girls enjoyed putting on makeup and getting their hair done, listening to Nicki Minaj songs and watching “SpongeBob SquarePants” and “Dora the Explorer,” their mother said.
“They were happy girls — a joy to be around. It's hard to see them gone,” said the girls' great-aunt, Tonia Torry.
Chanelle Torry said she didn't know that Phelps was intoxicated when she asked him to drive her and her daughters home.
“I want to know why he had a seat belt on but didn't give me time to buckle up the girls ...I would love to know if he's remorseful. I want to find out if he's sorry,” she said.
She said Phelps came home around midnight and they began arguing about a woman he was seeing. She asked Phelps to take them home when the argument escalated.
Torry said she placed the girls in the SUV and had buckled up the youngest.
But she didn't have time to put seat belts on the still-sleeping Mela Skye and Laela before Phelps began pulling out of his driveway, she said. Torry hopped in the vehicle.
Douglas County sheriff's deputies said Phelps sped off, lost control of the vehicle and flipped it into a ravine. Mela Skye and Laela, who were ejected, were pronounced dead at the scene.
“I woke up on the street, and I remember freaking out, looking around for my kids. I didn't know the girls weren't going to make it,” Torry said.
“I've been blaming myself since the ambulance ride to the hospital.”
But her supportive family and friends keep telling her that the girls' deaths are on Phelps, she said.
Phelps and Torry met through social clubs about 18 months ago. They began dating in December. She said she knew he was married and had three children of his own.
Phelps' wife, Lula Chappell, lives in Oxnard, Calif., with his two sons, Isaiah Christopher Phelps, 3, and Jacob D. Phelps, 2. Chappell said Phelps also has a 12-year-old daughter who lives with Phelps' parents in Florida.
She said she left Christopher Phelps in August 2011.
“He became a different person. I begged and I pleaded with him to straighten up. I noticed his drinking getting worse and thought he was in a deep depression,” Chappell said.
She was shocked to hear about the crash, that Phelps had a girlfriend and that he had been arrested.
“He was supposed to come back (to California) for his family. I don't know what to tell his sons,” she said.
Chappell said she planned to travel to Omaha to see Phelps, lend him some spiritual support and serve him with divorce papers.
“I'm mad at him,'' she said.
Phelps recently began working for an Omaha locksmith and he also performed as a disc jockey at local events. He served in the Air Force for 13 years before moving in Omaha in 2007, Chappell said.
When they moved into the community, she said, Phelps was very active at their church, Joy of Life Ministries.
“He sang in the choir, drove the bus, helped out with the youth,” she said.
Phelps joined a Masonic lodge and an Omaha social club for motorcycle enthusiasts.
“I think he clicked with the wrong crowd and chose friends over family,” Chappell said.
She said the man she married loved children, especially little girls, and would never drive with children if he were intoxicated.
“I have pictures of him smiling and laughing with his kids, but in his mug shot it looks like he has no soul,” Chappell said.
Phelps was scheduled to appear before a judge today to hear the charges against him and have his bail set.
If he is convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and the possibility of a 15-year driver's license revocation.