Jeff Jardine

Crash turns into friendship for victim, rescuer

After a month in the hospital, Amanda Craig, 24, of Modesto, left, meets Destiny Perez, 16, of Waterford for the first time since a head-on crash in January left Craig seriously injured. The two met Monday at Craig’s grandfather’s home in Patterson, where she is recuperating.
After a month in the hospital, Amanda Craig, 24, of Modesto, left, meets Destiny Perez, 16, of Waterford for the first time since a head-on crash in January left Craig seriously injured. The two met Monday at Craig’s grandfather’s home in Patterson, where she is recuperating. cwinterfeldt@modbee.com

From the emails, voice mails and other sources:

DESTINY TO THE RESCUE – This one is a story of friendship emerging from near tragedy.

On Jan. 10, Modesto resident Amanda Craig, 24, and her 18-month-old daughter, Emily, were passengers in a car heading south on Albers Road near Dusty Lane east of Modesto. The driver allowed the car to drift across the line into the northbound lane. Annabeth Avila of Waterford veered her car out of the way just in time to avoid a collision. But the car behind Avila, driven by her sister Lorina Alcasar, wasn’t so fortunate and was hit head on.

The car in which Craig was riding flipped and rolled several times, coming to a stop in the ditch alongside the road.

Avila pulled over and ran to Alcasar’s car to aid her and her three children. Meanwhile, Avila’s daughter, 16-year-old Destiny Perez, heard screams coming from the car in the ditch, screams coming from Craig who, even though she was in extreme pain, pleaded for someone to get Emily and two other young children out of the car.

Perez came to the rescue, kicking out the remaining glass from the broken passenger-side window.

“I moved the air bag out of the way,” said Perez, a Waterford High junior with dreams of someday becoming a doctor. “I told (Craig) she needed to calm down, that everything was going to be all right. She was screaming for someone to get the babies out.”

Perez did, crawling into the rear passenger area of the overturned, badly damaged vehicle and then handing the children through the windows to men who came to assist.

“I’m pretty small,” she said.

Amazingly, all three children were unhurt. Craig, though, was in serious trouble. Perez stayed with Craig and held her hand until emergency workers took over. She suffered critical injuries that included a lacerated liver, lung contusions, crushed bones on both legs, and her spleen had to be removed in emergency surgery. She spent weeks hospitalized before finally being released to her grandfather’s home in Patterson, where she’ll be until she can begin a long and difficult rehabilitation period.

Perez’s aunt and her three children in the other car suffered cuts and bruises, except for the 3-year-old boy, who sustained a broken collarbone.

Perez certainly impressed Amanda Craig’s mom, Eva Traeger.

“She wrote a beautiful letter to Amanda when she was in the hospital.” Traeger said.

Perez, her mom and aunt tried to visit Craig in the hospital, but were unable to see her at the time. Monday, Perez and Avila drove out to Patterson and met Craig for the first time since the accident.

Meanwhile, Craig’s bills mount. Home Depot in Modesto volunteered materials and labor to build a wheelchair access ramp at her grandfather’s home. And a friend started a fundraising account through Indiegogo, which has raised about $1,650 toward a stated goal of $10,000.

Budding friendships, formed from near tragedy.

CLUBS GET MULLIGAN – This one happened awhile back, but is still pretty unique. Jim and Linda Haley of Knights Ferry were traveling in Washington state in August. The routine for their RV is simple: Before driving off, she secures the inside, he handles the outside.

That done, in theory at least, they drove south out of the community of Sedro-Wooley and had made it just past Seattle and onto Interstate 90 when Linda happened to glance at the passenger-side mirror and saw the same thing Jim saw from the driver’s side: a trucker flashing his lights. Then they realized why: The RV’s hatch door was open. They pulled over. Her golf bag, including her new TaylorMade Burner driver, was gone. They started to head back to look for it, but had no idea where it might have fallen out along the way. And if the bag had fallen into the road, forget it.

“My husband never likes to admit fault,” Linda joked. “‘I’m sorry. It was my fault’ are words he never says.”

(In the background during this phone chat, Jim could be heard saying, “It was my fault.”)

He told her to forget about the clubs, which had her contact information in the bag. She could buy a new set. They drove on to Pasco to visit a nephew who is a sheriff’s deputy there.

“Aunt Linda,” he told her, “You’re never going to see those clubs again.”

They drove back to California, but didn’t check the voice mail for a day or two after they got home. When they did, one message from a man in Washington got their attention.

“Linda Haley, I think I found something you’re looking for in Washington,” the voice stated.

She called back right away. No answer. The next morning, he called. Jamie Gabbard and his wife had seen the clubs a few feet off the road and stopped to check it out. They wanted to return them to their rightful owner. The Haleys own Haley Farms, a poultry business in Modesto. They gave Gabbard their FedEx account number and Linda had them back within just days of when she – OK, Jim – lost them.

“It restores my faith in humanity,” Linda said. “It wasn’t about the clubs. It’s that someone would take the time to do that (return them). They didn’t ask for anything in return. A good Samaritan. I almost started crying.”

The Haleys sent Gabbard a thank-you note with a gift card enclosed.

LOCAL LINK – Whatever happens, there always seems to be a link to the Valley.

Two weeks ago, “The Stanford Prison Experiment” took home a pair of awards, winning the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize and the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award for U.S. dramatic. The Valley link? Among the film’s producers is Brent Emery. His parents, Jerry and Becky Emery, moved to Escalon two decades ago, where he served as principal at El Portal Middle School, retiring eight years ago.

Brent Emery’s wife, Gren Wells, has directed “The Road Within,” with “Slumdog Millionaire” star Dev Patel. The State Theatre will show the film April 28, with a question-and-answer session afterward.

Bee columnist Jeff Jardine can be reached at jjardine@modbee.com or (209) 578-2383. Follow him on Twitter @JeffJardine57.

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