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‘We stayed with her and prayed for her’

Bay Area woman recalls coming to aid of family in I-5 crash

Posted: April 14, 2014 6:15 p.m.
Updated: April 14, 2014 6:15 p.m.

A Bay Area couple traveling southbound on Interstate 5 pulled two adults out of a shattered SUV that was involved in a high-speed crash, then told stories and prayed for the couple’s 16-year-old daughter when they couldn’t get her out of the crumpled vehicle, one of the rescuers said Monday.

“There was blood everywhere,” Susan Shapiro-Cates told The Signal Monday, recalling the Sunday collision that left six people critically injured, including three girls.

“Her arm looked like it was broken in three places and she said, ‘I can’t feel my legs,’ and she couldn’t move her neck,” Shapiro-Cates said. “She said, ‘Stay with me’ and said she had visited a college with her parents and was returning home. She said her name was Marianne.

“We couldn’t get her out, so my husband climbed in the back and stayed with her,” Shapiro-Cates said. “She told us, ‘Tell me a story.’

“We stayed with her and prayed for her,” she said.

The Honda 2013 CRV SUV was hit by an Acura SUV carrying an adult and two children, both also girls, said investigating California Highway Patrol Officer Chris Wymore in a collision report. The crash occurred about 5 p.m. on the southbound I-5 near Gorman School Road, Wymore said.

The couple stayed with Marianne for 20 minutes until paramedics with the Los Angeles County Fire Department arrived.

Firefighters were working to extricate one person from the Honda at 5:30 p.m., Fire Department Capt. Ed Rash said Sunday.

Motorists from a fourth vehicle who saw the same crash ran to the aid of the Acura occupants.

“One guy ripped the car door open to get at them,” Shapiro-Cates said. “We saw three people on the ground with blankets on them.”

Shapiro-Cates and her husband, Gary, first saw the crash as “dust swirling” suddenly in front of them as they drove southbound. Then the roadway was littered with “shattered glass everywhere.”

Barbara Kowalczyk, 53, of Redwood City was driving the 2006 Acura MDX southbound in the fast lane of Interstate 5 at about 70 miles per hour, Wymore said. There were two girls with her — Grace and Genevie Frome, ages 14 and 12 years old, respectively.

All three suffered major injuries and were airlifted by Fire Department paramedics to UCLA Medical Center.

“Possibly due to falling asleep, Kowalszyk allowed the Acura to move left into the center median where it crashed into a metal guard rail,” Wymore said.

“She then turned the Acura back to the right and crossed into the lane next to the fast lane and into the left side of the Honda.”

Both vehicles were carried to the right across the roadway and collided with the dirt embankment, overturned and came to rest, blocking the right lanes, the CHP officer wrote, noting the Honda had also been traveling about 70 mph.

Honda driver Chunlei Rui, 52, of Lakewood was airlifted by Los Angeles County Fire Department paramedics to Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital. His passenger Minyan Zhu, 48, also of Lakewood, was airlifted to Providence Holy Cross Medical Center. Both suffered major injuries.

The 16-year-old girl, who identified herself to her rescuers as Marianne Lee, was a passenger in the backseat of the Honda and also suffered major injuries.

“I can’t get her face out of my mind,” Shapiro-Cates said.

A dog from one of the SUVs was also rescued, said Betsey Webster, spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County Animal Care and Control.

“We transported the dog to a veterinary hospital, where it is at this time,” she said Monday, describing the dog as about 3 months old, a gold-colored female terrier that suffered an injury to her rear hind leg.
on Twitter @jamesarthurholt




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