VAULT: 4 DEAD IN FA­TAL CRASH

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Cho­lame restau­rant own­ers Ed and Stella Ran­dall had four fam­ily mem­bers killed in a church van crash near Le­moore in the 1980s.

When long­time re­porter and colum­nist Phil Dirkx re­tired in Oc­to­ber, his for­mer co-work­ers chimed in on­line — cel­e­brat­ing his kind­ness and gen­eros­ity and de­scrib­ing him as “a stately gen­tle­man.”

Phil started writ­ing for the then-Tele­gram-Tri­bune in 1972. I first met him a decade later when I in­terned as a Cal Poly stu­dent pho­tog­ra­pher at the news­pa­per.

Phil wrote ev­ery­thing from a small-town hu­man in­ter­est pro­file to a break­ing news story about a shoot­ing at a court­house to a multi-part ex­plainer on the State Wa­ter Project.

My ear­li­est mem­ory work­ing with Phil is tinged with tragedy. The tiny com­mu­nity of Cho­lame had lost four chil­dren when a church van col­lided with a semi-trailer truck. Six other peo­ple in the van were also killed.

An al­most over­whelm­ing sense of dread ac­com­pa­nied me on the drive to Stella’s Coun­try Kitchen, a small cafe west of the Cho­lame Y, where High­way 41 meets High­way 46. (The restau­rant, now un­der dif­fer­ent man­age­ment, is to­day known as Jack Ranch Cafe.)

I found the mag­ni­tude of loss be­yond my abil­ity to in­ter­pret.

Phil con­ducted the in­ter­view with quiet dig­nity, not­ing the in­for­ma­tion needed and giv­ing the Ran­dall fam­ily space to ex­press what was in their hearts.

Ed and Stella Ran­dall and their pas­tor shared their stead­fast faith and were con­cerned about their guest’s com­fort, of­fer­ing pie and cof­fee.

The mo­ment I will al­ways re­mem­ber was of crash sur­vivor Char­ity Silva, 4, bound­ing around the room with a child’s

ir­re­press­ible en­ergy as the adults shared their mem­o­ries.

The fol­low­ing story was pub­lished in the Tele­gram-Tri­bune on Oct. 30, 1982:

DEATH, FAITH TOUCH STELLA’S COUN­TRY KITCHEN

Death has laid a heavy hand on the tiny com­mu­nity of Cho­lame in the north­east­ern cor­ner of this county, but faith has touched it too.

Ed and Stella Ran­dall run the cafe in Cho­lame, Stella’s Coun­try Kitchen. Ear­lier this month four mem­bers of their fam­ily were killed in a traf­fic crash.

“If we could bring them back to­day we wouldn’t do it be­cause they are in a much bet­ter place,” said Ed Ran­dall this week.

Stella’s hair is gray and Ed’s is more like white. They are soft-spo­ken and of medium build.

“The Lord had a rea­son for it and didn’t let any of them suf­fer, that’s for sure,” Stella said.

The four were rid­ing in a church van when it was hit head-on by a trailer truck in Le­moore Oct. 9. Ten of the 11 peo­ple in the van were killed.

The four Ed and Stella lost were their fos­ter daugh­ter Sherie Ran­dall, 16, their fos­ter son Al­lan Lamp­kin, 13, their niece Terry McGee, 15, and their grand­daugh­ter Karen Ran­dall, 1 1/2.

Karen’s fa­ther Lon­nie is a full-time cook in his par­ents’ restau­rant and Terry’s mother, Ellen McGee cooks part time there.

In fact the busi­ness district of Cho­lame is mostly a Ran­dall fam­ily af­fair. The only other busi­ness in town is the Chevron sta­tion run by Ed’s brother Melvin.

The rest of Cho­lame con­sists of the post of­fice, a mon­u­ment to movie ac­tor James Dean — who was killed nearby in a traf­fic crash in 1955 — and not much else ex­cept a seis­mo­log­i­cal in­stru­ment to de­tect move­ment on the San An­dreas earth­quake fault that passes about a half a mile away.

About half the peo­ple who work at the cafe are mem­bers of the Ran­dall fam­ily, in­clud­ing McGee, Lon­nie, Ed and Stella, and the cou­ple’s older son Ed­die, who also cooks.

Un­til Oct. 9, three other mem­bers of the fam­ily also worked around the restau­rant.

Niece Terry McGee was em­ployed as a wait­ress; fos­ter-daugh­ter Sherie, who had mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis, helped out as cashier; and fos­ter-son Al­lan helped out around the yard.

Much of the Ran­dalls’ strength in this tragedy came from the pas­tor of their church, the Rev. Leonard “Bud” Silva of the Ave­nal Cal­vary Bap­tist Church.

“God has turned it into a bless­ing,” Silva said at the restau­rant this week.

“There are things many peo­ple think are ter­ri­ble that God gives us for a bless­ing.”

Silva was speak­ing from per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence. His wife Pa­tri­cia was killed driv­ing the van and two of his chil­dren — Joy, 2, and Nathan, 3 —were also killed.

The only sur­vivor out of the 11 peo­ple in the van was Silva’s other daugh­ter Char­ity who will be five in Jan­uary.

“My daugh­ter is a mir­a­cle,” he said.

“She had only a few scratches on her face and suf­fered no pain.”

Asked how such a tragedy could be a bless­ing, Silva said, “It’s touched many hearts and be­cause of it many have come to the Lord and been saved.

“Peo­ple woke up and re­al­ized life is short and it’s time to make it right with the Lord,” he said. “Peo­ple re­al­ize its time to be saved now.”

The fu­neral ser­vice for all 10 was held in the Ave­nal High School au­di­to­rium five days af­ter the crash. About 1,000 of the 4,500 res­i­dents of Ave­nal at­tended, Silva said.

“Forty or fifty peo­ple came down the aisle at the close of the ser­vice to trust the Lord,” he said.

Since then peo­ple have con­tin­ued to join Silva’s church. He said he bap­tized an­other six the night be­fore be­ing in­ter­viewed.

Lon­nie was cook­ing at the cafe Oct. 9 when his wife called him to tell him of the crash.

“She said there’d been a wreck but she didn’t know how bad,” he said. “then I heard that some were killed and I called the CHP and the CHP said very few sur­vived.”

The van was tak­ing the chil­dren to the Se­quoia Bap­tist Acad­emy, where they at­tended school. It was a 55-mile trip one way. The par­ents took turns driv­ing the van. On an­other morn­ing Lon­nie’s wife might have been driv­ing.

When Silva heard there was an ac­ci­dent that may have in­volved his church’s van he drove im­me­di­ately to Le­moore. When he saw the swarm of flash­ing red lights he stopped and went to look for the van.

“I asked where the peo­ple were and they said they would take me to where they were,” he said. “They took me to a fu­neral home where the bod­ies were.”

He then had to iden­tify nine of the dead in­clud­ing his wife and chil­dren. He also iden­ti­fied three mem­bers of the Ran­dalls’ fam­ily and three chil­dren from two of the other fam­i­lies in his church.

The Ran­dalls’ niece Terry was taken un­con­scious to a hos­pi­tal at Han­ford. She was pro­nounced dead three days later when her life sup­port sys­tems were dis­con­nected.

Af­ter iden­ti­fy­ing the bod­ies, Silva found he also had other press­ing du­ties.

“The other fam­i­lies started com­ing in so I had to com­fort them,” he said.

“He sure was a help,” said Ed Ran­dall.

“He helped every­body; his strength rubbed off on a lot of other peo­ple.”

A friend of the Ran­dalls’, Dee Saun­ders who op­er­ates the Ave­nal Inn, took over their cafe in Cho­lame un­til af­ter the fu­neral.

The Ran­dalls live in Ave­nal and make the 30-minute com­mute to Cho­lame ev­ery day. Ed said his work­ing day starts about 5:30 a.m. and of­ten lasts 12 to 15 hours.

The Ran­dalls’ reg­u­lar cus­tomers and friends have re­acted to the tragedy in many dif­fer­ent ways.

“Some don’t say any­thing be­cause they are afraid they won’t know what to say,” Ed Ran­dall said. “Oth­ers put their arms around my shoul­ders and say ‘I’m sorry.’ ”

“One tanker-truck driver came in yes­ter­day and said, ‘I’ve been avoid­ing it but I just had to come in and talk to you,’ ” Ran­dall said.

The Ran­dalls and Silva said they have heard from peo­ple all over the coun­try. Silva said he re­ceived a bun­dle of let­ters from an el­e­men­tary school class in In­di­ana.

He said peo­ple from other cities have dropped in on him too.

And he has been grant­ing all in­ter­views he pos­si­bly can. He feels it’s im­por­tant for the pub­lic to hear about the tragedy.

“Peo­ple try to ig­nore death and they try to ig­nore hav­ing eter­nal life through Je­sus,” he said.

Cho­lame Post­mas­ter Lily Grant said, “Some peo­ple speak to me to see if it would be OK to speak to the Ran­dalls about it.”

The peo­ple in the area have also been won­der­ing when the Ran­dalls’ com­po­sure will break down, but it hasn’t so far, Grant said.

“There’s not go­ing to be any break­down in our life,” said Ed Ran­dall.

“Things only break down when there’s a bad foun­da­tion,” Silva said.

“If we didn’t know the kids are in heaven it would be a lot harder to take,” Ran­dall said. “They took a short­cut and beat the rest of us.”

David Middlecamp is a pho­tog­ra­pher for The Tri­bune. 805-781-7942, dmid­dle­camp@ thetri­bune­news.com, @DavidMid­dle­camp

Visit www.san­luiso­bispo.com/ pho­tos-from-the-vault to see old pho­tos and read se­lected ar­chives.

DAVID MIDDLECAMP dmid­dle­camp@thetri­bune­news.com

Char­ity Silva peeks out from be­hind a somber Stella Ran­dall. The Ran­dall and Silva fam­i­lies were touched by tragedy in 1982 when a church van car­ry­ing sev­eral fam­ily mem­bers was hit by a semi-trailer truck near Le­moore.

BY DAVID MIDDLECAMP dmid­dle­camp@thetri­bune­news.com

DAVID MIDDLECAMP dmid­dle­camp@thetri­bune­news.com

The restau­rant near the Cho­lame Y at the in­ter­sec­tion of High­way 41 and High­way 46 was called Stella’s Coun­try Kitchen in 1982.

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