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Help amid healing for Santa Rosa cousins

Monday, January 28th, 2013 | Posted by | no responses

By LORI A. CARTER

THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Seated in a wheelchair while recovering from injuries suffered in a tragic vehicle crash six weeks ago, Cristina Garcia seemed a bit overwhelmed by

Cristina Garcia, holding her 11-month-old daughter Maya Isabella Garcia, talks with Art Ibleto, the “Pasta King”, and Elsie Allen teacher Lisa DeCarbo during a fundraising event for Garcia and Alexis Vargas at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa, on Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013. (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

the bustling crowd overflowing from Finley Hall at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds.

She smiled gently and let strangers hug her and wish her well.

More than 1,000 people attended a benefit Sunday for Cristina, 16, and her cousin Alexis Vargas, 17, who were seriously injured on Dec. 23 in a traffic accident in Mexico that took the life of Cristina’s mother, María Torres Garcia, 46, and injured other family members.

A steady stream of supporters greeted Cristina, who remained seated as her broken pelvis heals.

“Most of them I don’t even know,” she said, pausing to receive a hug from an older woman who approached. “It’s nice to have people around.”

Two days before Christmas during a holiday trip to see family, Cristina’s father, Francisco, swerved and lost control while driving at night in the state of Coahuila in northern Mexico. The vehicle rolled, pitching its seven occupants inside the SUV.

Cristina’s mother died at the scene. Cristina’s 10-month-old daughter, Maya, suffered a skull fracture and internal bleeding. Her brother, Daniel, had facial injuries that required skin grafts.

Alexis remains at UC San Francisco hospital for treatment of facial and leg injuries. Steven, Alexis’ 11-year-old brother, was ejected from the SUV but was not seriously hurt.

Francisco Garcia, who wasn’t seriously injured in the crash, stepped outside the crowded hall Sunday for a breather. Inside, hundreds shared a pasta meal donated by “Pasta King” Art Ibleto or hand-made tacos and other treats.

“It’s like family,” Garcia said of the love and support he felt from those inside.

“We’re OK, we’re strong,” he said of his family, letting out a big sigh. “I can’t let my kids down at this moment.”

Garcia, who has lived in Sonoma County for 25 years and became a citizen 20 years ago, is a mill worker at Golden State Lumber in San Rafael. He said support for his family has come from all sides.

“We have a big community — with the church, the town, the whole community,” he said. “This is my family now.

“Everybody that has come out here, it’s all about family caring for each other no matter what.”

He said Cristina will start physical therapy soon.

Cristina, a junior, and Alexis, a senior, are popular cheerleaders at Elsie Allen High School in southwest Santa Rosa.

As word spread about the devastating crash, friends, family, teachers and others jumped at the chance to help the teens and their families.

West County Supervisor Efren Carrillo called on his supporters to lend a hand.

“This speaks to the community’s strength, to a desire to help each other,” he said, gesturing at the diverse crowd.

“All walks of life are here from Santa Rosa and Sonoma County — the court administrator, the Farm Bureau president, high school principals, CEOs, nonprofit organizers, coaches,” Carrillo said. “This is what makes healthy communities.”

Rotary Club members from all over Sonoma County gathered funds for the families, cheer squads held fundraisers and collected donations at sporting events, and others sold candy to raise money to defray what will be vast medical bills.

On Sunday, the Santa Rosa West Rotary Club donated $7,000 to the families. Jazmin Gudino, a former Elsie Allen student and a salsa dancer, contributed $1,780 from a dance performance she coordinated.

“We broke the $20,000 barrier on Friday,” said Rotary organizer Ross Andress, who also runs the Interact Club at Elsie Allen. Alexis has been active in Interact, sponsored by the Santa Rosa Sunrise Rotary Club.

Santa Rosa High School basketball coaches John McGill and Steve Chisholm dropped off $500 their teams collected during the boys and girls games this week against Windsor High.

Within the first hour of Sunday’s event, the nearly 400 seats filled up with folks listening to music and watching dance performances.

Gudino said, “It was easy to help.”

“This family is so similar to ours and those of our community,” she said.”If our family was involved in a tragedy, we know they would help.”

Donations can be made to the Garcia family at Chase Bank in the name of Guadalupe Garcia and to the Vargas family at Redwood Credit Union in the name of Gabriel Vargas.

You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 762-7297 or lori.carter@pressdemocrat.com

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