Teen recalls images from deadly crash as cross-country athletes return to Calif. campus

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Teen recalls images from deadly California crash

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — Cross-country runner Gabi Jimenez cauldn’t shake the image of her best friend struggling from the wreckage of a deadly van crash that turned a routine training trip into a tragedy.

Jimenez, 19, was among dozens of cross-country athletes who returned late Tuesday to California Baptist University in Riverside, a day after a collision in the eastern Sierra Nevada killed three people and injured 16 others, many of them university teammates.

“Yesterday was surreal because those are my closest friends who were in that van and the team was my family,” Jimenez said. “It was like watching my family suffer, and there wasn’t a whole lot I could do about it.”

The team was heading to a high-altitude training camp at Mammoth Lakes on Monday night when a Ford Expedition — which may have been heading back from the same camp — went out of control on Highway 395 south of Bishop.

The SUV veered, rolled and crossed a center divider before its head-on collision with the van carrying university team members. The SUV burst into flames and was struck by another car, according to California Highway Patrol reports.

The cause of the crash remained under investigation.

Killed were cheerleading coach Wendy Rice, 35, of Corona, who was driving the van; and Amanda Post, 18, and Natalie Nield, two recent graduates of Cathedral Catholic High School in San Diego who were in the SUV. Both had been on their high school cross-country team.

On Wednesday, more than 200 people gathered to mourn on a bluff overlooking Swami’s Beach in Encinitas, where Post loved to jog.

Gregory and Missy Post, her parents, wept.

“I cannot express to you how much I appreciate the love that’s been expressed,” Gregory Post told the San Diego Union-Tribune. “These girls were the epitome of the student athlete.”

After joining hands in prayer, many mourners jogged along the beach wearing red T-shirts with a photo of Amanda Post.

Post “was a star in everything she did,” friend Katie Schrimpf said. “She would walk in and light up a room.”

Post planned to run track and cross-country at a California college this fall, the Union-Tribune reported.

Nield was planning to attend Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, where the athletic department website listed her as a freshman recruit for the cross-country team.

Jimenez told the Riverside Press-Enterprise that she was in another California Baptist University van that avoided being hit when she saw her best friend, Hanna Ingulsrud, struggling to climb out of wreckage.

“It was so scary,” Jimenez said. “We couldn’t get close enough because (the SUV) was on fire. I never prayed so hard in my life.”

Ingulsrud suffered minor facial injuries, Jimenez said.

After the crash, people in the undamaged vans ran to help the victims.

“Two of our guys were able to pull two people out of the car that was on fire,” Jimenez said. “The fire was so large that you couldn’t see anything past it.”

The team was at the crash scene for nearly three hours.

“Everyone was relatively calm until it kind of settled down and … that’s when the emotions really hit us,” Jimenez said. “We were just watching them take them on stretchers one by one.”

About 45 team members were supposed to spend a week at the training camp, but they spent only a single night before returning to Riverside.

Among those injured were a dozen California Baptist University athletes, according to CHP and university officials.

The CHP reported that four of the victims had major injuries and were in extremely critical condition Tuesday, some with third-degree burns.

However, two were showing improvement and were in fair condition Wednesday with stable vital signs, hospital spokespersons said.

Drew Constantine Delis, 22, of Encinitas remained in the burn center at San Joaquin Community Hospital in Bakersfield, spokesman Jimmy Phillips said.

Delis also was a former Cathedral Catholic High School runner who played soccer at the University of San Diego.

California Baptist University athlete Alicia Catanese, 21, of Corona was being treated at Mammoth Hospital for a concussion, broken leg, cuts and facial burns, spokeswoman Lori Ciccarelli said.

A third patient, Rebecca Trupp, 20, of Riverside was in stable condition at Renown Regional Medical Center in Reno, spokesman Dan Davis said.

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