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/ Source: TODAY
By Scott Stump

Rebecca Gayheart has opened up about the tragic 2001 car accident that left her with thoughts of taking her own life.

The former "Beverly Hills, 90210" actress spoke with Laura Cathcart Robbins on "The Only One in the Room" podcast about the accident that changed her life. At the time, Gayheart was driving in Los Angeles when she swerved around a car that had braked in front of her, and struck a 9-year-old boy, Jorge Cruz Jr., who later died from his injuries.

Rebecca Gayheart says she had thoughts of suicide after a tragic 2001 car accident in which she struck and killed a 9-year-old boy. Jason LaVeris / FilmMagic

"I had a very terrible accident happen,'' she said. "A 9-year-old child died. And, you know, everything changed from that, and, I still have trouble talking about it."

Gayheart said Jorge had been chasing after a soccer ball when he ran into the street. The actress, who was not under the influence of alcohol or drugs, was sentenced to probation, 750 hours of community service and had her license suspended for a year after pleading no contest to vehicular manslaughter.

She also paid for the funeral expenses for the boy and settled a wrongful death lawsuit with the boy's family out of court.

Haunted by the accident, she considered taking her own life.

"I did not cope very well after,'' she said. "I just didn't want to live after that accident. That's what it came down to. I couldn't handle it at all. So I spent about a year just trying to kill myself, basically, by doing every self-destructive thing a person can do.

"I just didn't understand. I didn't understand any of it. I had led sort of a charmed life up until then, even though I grew up dirt poor ... It just turned my world upside down and I lost faith in everything, like, I questioned God, like, 'Why me? Why Jorge?'"

Eighteen years later, Gayheart has done her best to move forward while also living a purposeful life. "I still have those questions, but today I am able to ponder those questions and still realize that I deserve to be happy and 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," she said, noting she "can't imagine what his parents are still feeling like."

One of the activities that she credits for helping her find purpose is her work with Chrysalis, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit that provides the homeless with tools necessary to find employment.

She helped create the Butterfly Ball for Chrysalis in 2002, which has raised $16 million for the organization since its inception.

Gayheart also is a mother of two with "Grey's Anatomy" star Eric Dane, whom she divorced last year.

If you or someone you know is at risk of suicide, please call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text TALK to 741741 or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources.