Robert Baskin thought his daughter was finally getting her life back on track. She had successfully completed a drug rehab program in Middletown this summer. She attended Narcotics Anonymous meetings and spoke of plans to get her high school equivalency diploma.
But like so many other times before, 24-year-old Leah W. Ulbrich suddenly relapsed and fell victim again to a cocaine habit. Any strides she had made slipped away.
Then came the harrowing news from a Hartford police officer.
Ulbrich's mangled body was found in a Wethersfield street gutter before dawn Oct. 29. She had been dragged more than 4 miles by a car that one witness said had taken off like a ``bat out of hell.''
Police are continuing their investigation and do not have a suspect, Lt. Joseph Buyak said Monday.
As Baskin and other relatives mourn, they hope the killing will at least send a harsh message to others about the dangers of drugs.
``My daughter tried very hard to battle her addiction. Unfortunately, she put herself in harm's way one too many times,'' Baskin said Monday, speaking out for the first time since his daughter's death. ``She lost her life in a terrible, brutal way -- one she didn't deserve.''
Baskin spoke from his home in Washington, D.C., where he is chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Sam J. Gejdenson.
``Leah was a victim, and that's what people need to understand,'' he said.
A Courant truck driver on his way home from his third-shift route was one of the last to see Ulbrich alive. He saw a man striking a woman in the front seat of a newer model car stopped on Locust Street in a desolate, industrial part of Hartford. The truck driver heard the woman screaming and turned his vehicle around to see if he could help her.
As he approached, the car took off from Locust Street with Ulbrich hanging from the passenger side with the passenger door open. The car headed up East Elliott Street, toward Wethersfield Avenue.
The truck driver, Bill Flemming, told police he tried to chase the car, but it sped off at about 60 mph, towing Ulbrich's body along the pavement with it.
Flemming alerted a Courant truck dispatcher, who called police about 4:50 a.m.
``It's something I'm never going to forget,'' Flemming said.
Police believe the woman was pushed from the car and either got her arm tangled in the seat belt, or was grasping it.
Officer Martin Burke, on his way to investigate, noticed the car going south on Wethersfield Avenue with no lights on and turned to follow it. But the car sped off, losing Burke. A trail of blood, hair and flesh led Burke to Ulbrich, whose partially clothed body was lying in a gutter off Jordan Lane in Wethersfield.
``There's no doubt in my mind that the driver knew what was going on,'' Buyak said. ``That woman was a wreck. She was reduced to nothing.''
The woman's shoes were left behind. They stood parallel to each other, as if Ulbrich was just lifted right out of them at the corner of Locust and East Elliott streets.