It took 18 years for Rebecca Gayheart to finally feel ready to open up about her 2001 car accident, which resulted in the death of 9-year-old Jorge Cruz Jr.
While attending the 18th Annual Chrysalis Butterfly Ball on Saturday, Gayheart, 47, told PEOPLE that although it hadn’t been easy to discuss the tragic accident for the first time last month, it was something she “needed to do.”
“It had been 18 years, I’d never really talked to anyone about it,” she said, adding that sharing her story on her friend’s The Only One in the Room podcast was “a great way to get it off my chest.”
Since then, the Beverly Hills, 90210 actress says she’s gotten plenty of support.
“People have been kind to me, which is nice, I felt very loved my last couple of weeks, people have reached out to offer support, so it’s been a positive experience,” she said.
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During the podcast, Gayheart shared that following the accident, she found it difficult to move on, and had considered taking her own life.
Acknowledging that it “was scary” to be so open about her experience, the actress told PEOPLE at the event that she hoped she could help provide comfort to others grappling with tragedies in their lives.
“I did it because I was thinking, if there’s one person out there who feels the same way and I can offer them some perspective of it all being okay, then it’s worth it,” she explained.
Gayheart, who was joined at the event by her daughters Billie Beatrice, 9, and Georgia Geraldine, 7, went on to share that her kids have been a tremendous support to her.
“Right now, my kids are everything, my kids keep me in line,” she shared.
Later on in the evening, after their mother finished delivering an emotional speech, the actress shared a sweet hug with both of her daughters, whom she shares with ex Eric Dane.
Others in attendance at the Chrysalis Butterfly Ball were Marsai Martin, Linda Perry, Sara Gilbert, Adam Devine, Ziggy Marley, Natasha Beddingfield, Maria Menounos, Jordana Brewster and Lindsay Price, who all came together to support the organization which works to help individuals out of poverty and homelessness by providing the tools necessary to gain employment.
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Gayheart opened up about the tragic accident last month, revealing that she still has “trouble talking about it.”
“A 9-year-old child died. And, you know, everything changed from that,” she shared. “It just turned my world upside down and I lost faith in everything, like, I questioned God, like, ‘Why me? Why Jorge?’”
On June 13, 2001, Gayheart was driving a vehicle owned by her Dusk Til Dawn 3 costar, Marco Leonardi, when she accidentally struck Cruz as he was walking across the street in Los Angeles.
Cruz died from the injuries sustained the following day, and Gayheart paid the family $10,000 for funeral expenses. After pleading no contest to vehicular manslaughter in November 2001, the actress was sentenced to probation, a one-year suspension of her license, a $2,800 fine, and 750 hours of community service. She also settled a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the child’s parents out of court.
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Although Gayheart still struggles with what happened, she has since found both happiness and further success in her life, and if trying to keep a positive mindset.
“Today, I am able to ponder those questions and still realize that I deserve to be happy,” she concluded. “That I am meant to be on this planet and that I have a purpose and I’m making, living amends for that, even though it was an accident.”
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