Trip to su­per bloom turns tragic for Cal Poly stu­dents

The Tribune (SLO) - - Front Page - BY GABBY FER­REIRA AND KAYTLYN LES­LIE

Cal Poly stu­dents Erica Kemp, Mar­i­ana Sil­ver­man and Keilani Waxdeck pre­pared for a Satur­day drive out to the Car­rizo Plain su­per bloom much like ev­ery­one else on April 6, not know­ing tragedy would bring their plan to an abrupt halt.

Once the dra­matic dis­play of wild­flow­ers sprung up in east­ern San Luis Obispo County, Kemp said the trio of friends de­cided to get dressed up in “beau­ti­ful tops, long skirts and pants” and go take pho­tos among the stun­ning views. The trio of friends even stopped at a grocery store to pick up food for an an­tic­i­pated pic­nic.

“We looked like lit­tle fairies ready to go dance in the sun,” Kemp, 20, told The Tribune slightly more than two weeks later.

They didn’t make it to their photo shoot.

At about 12:30 p.m., Kemp was driv­ing the trio east on High­way 166 when an­other car, driven west­bound by Bak­ers­field res­i­dent Brian Scott Adams, 29, crossed the cen­ter line over the high­way and slammed into them.

Adams and his pas­sen­ger, Ash­ley Ni­cole Castillo, 29, were de­clared dead at the scene.

Kemp sus­tained mi­nor in­juries in the crash — heavy bruis­ing and a deep cut on her an­kle that re­quired stitches, as well as some lo­cal­ized pain. Sil­ver­man, 21, and Waxdeck, 20, how­ever, were se­ri­ously in­jured and im­me­di­ately trans­ported to dif­fer­ent hos­pi­tals for treat­ment.

As of Thurs­day, Waxdeck is still in a med­i­cally in­duced coma.

Now the com­mu­nity is ral­ly­ing be­hind Sil­ver­man and Waxdeck, rais­ing funds to help pay their med­i­cal ex­penses. To date, two sep­a­rate GoFundMe accounts for the women have raised more than $ 75,000.

“Be­sides this be­ing a ter­ri­ble night­mare, I have gath­ered many pos­i­tive thoughts from this tragedy,” Kemp wrote in an email to The Tribune on April 18. “The com­mu­nity and sup­port I have been sur­rounded by has been ab­so­lutely amaz­ing. ... It feels amaz­ing to know that peo­ple care.”

FAST FRIENDS

Kemp said she met Waxdeck their fresh­man year at Cal Poly, be­cause they were both in the graphic de­sign pro­gram.

They im­me­di­ately hit it off be­cause Waxdeck’s “philo­soph­i­cal, in­tel­li­gent and grace­ful” per­son­al­ity helped mel­low Kemp’s ten­dency to­ward stress, she said. In their sopho­more year they be­came room­mates.

“When I first met her, I thought we were soul mates,” Kemp said.

Ni­cole Sanchez, a fam­ily friend of Waxdeck, de­scribed her as “just fan­tas­tic.”

“She is ath­letic and smart and fun and is a truly nice girl,” Sanchez told The Tribune in a phone in­ter­view Tues­day. “Just a joy to be around.”

Sil­ver­man, a host­ess at Novo in down­town San Luis Obispo, was a newer ad­di­tion to their friend group, Kemp said, be­cause she only switched from stu­dio art to the graphic de­sign pro­gram this school year.

“Mar­i­ana is a ball of sun­shine,” Kemp wrote. “She is so happy and en­er­getic all the time. Her laugh is con­ta­gious, you can’t miss it.”

“Her hap­pi­ness is shared with so many peo­ple, and so many peo­ple love her, in­clud­ing my­self,” Kemp added.

A SUR­REAL EX­PE­RI­ENCE

The day of the crash, Kemp said she, Waxdeck

and Sil­ver­man were plan­ning to go out to the su­per bloom with three of their other friends.

Those friends drove out in a sep­a­rate car, and be­cause of a mis­com­mu­ni­ca­tion, ended up driv­ing north out of San Luis Obispo to­ward the flow­ers while Kemp’s car fate­fully drove south, tak­ing High­way 166.

“Our friends af­ter us never knew that we had the ac­ci­dent, since they didn’t go the same way as us,” Kemp said. “Since they didn’t have ser­vice at Car­rizo Plain, they didn’t know we got in our ac­ci­dent un­til they got home, hours af­ter.”

By that time, both Sil­ver­man and Waxdeck were al­ready in crit­i­cal con­di­tion.

Im­me­di­ately af­ter the col­li­sion, Kemp said she re­mem­bered get­ting out of the car. Wit­nesses rushed to help her and call 911.

Kemp re­mem­bered how strange it was for such a happy day to sud­denly shift to tragedy.

“It felt so sur­real,” she said. “We were in these beau­ti­ful hills, bright blue sky, sun beat­ing down on us sting­ing my open wounds, and blood drip­ping down my leg un­der my skirt.”

Kemp said af­ter a few min­utes, some of the re­spon­ders to the crash told her that Waxdeck and Sil­ver­man were still breath­ing, though the other car’s pas­sen­gers were dead.

Sil­ver­man and Kemp shared an am­bu­lance to Marian Re­gional Med­i­cal Cen­ter in Santa Maria. Sil­ver­man needed a stretcher, but Kemp didn’t, she re­called.

“My last words to her was that I was so happy that she’s OK and that I love her,” Kemp said. “She re­sponded, ‘Am I OK?’ The crash hap­pened so fast that Mar­i­ana didn’t even re­ally un­der­stand what had hap­pened.”

Waxdeck, mean­while, was rushed via heli­copter to Santa Bar­bara Cot­tage Hos­pi­tal.

“I was so scared for Keilani — I couldn’t imag­ine los­ing her,” Kemp said. “I felt that it would ruin me for­ever if she didn’t make it.”

IN RE­COV­ERY

Sil­ver­man suf­fered a punc­tured lung, frac­tured hip, sprained left arm and a frac­tured right arm, as well as miss­ing teeth, ac­cord­ing to Kemp and the GoFundMe cam­paign. Waxdeck’s in­juries in­cluded a trau­matic brain injury, bro­ken ribs and pelvis, ab­dom­i­nal in­juries and a bro­ken an­kle and foot.

Sil­ver­man had cor­rec­tional surgery on her right wrist, and it will take six weeks un­til she can write again, Kemp said. It will also take her sev­eral months un­til she can walk on her own.

Kemp said Sil­ver­man is now at home with her fam­ily in Red­wood City do­ing phys­i­cal therapy and re­cov­er­ing.

Waxdeck will be in a med­i­cally in­duced coma for four months while doctors al­low her body to heal and per­form nec­es­sary surg­eries to re­pair some of her bro­ken bones, Kemp said.

The com­mu­nity has since ral­lied to sup­port the women through their re­cov­ery.

Sanchez, who started the GoFundMe cam­paign for Waxdeck on April 11, said she got the idea soon af­ter hear­ing about the crash.

“The fundrais­ing in this kind of sit­u­a­tion is a great thing, but I fig­ured for ev­ery per­son who do­nates, prob­a­bly 10 to 20 peo­ple have heard about this,” Sanchez said. “Even if they don’t do­nate, they send a prayer or a pos­i­tive thought

‘‘ “IT FELT SO SUR­REAL. WE WERE IN THESE BEAU­TI­FUL HILLS, BRIGHT BLUE SKY, SUN BEAT­ING DOWN ON US STING­ING MY OPEN WOUNDS, AND BLOOD DRIP­PING DOWN MY LEG UN­DER MY SKIRT.”

Erica Kemp

to­ward Keilani. I be­lieve in the power of that.”

Sanchez said she first got ap­proval for the cam­paign from Waxdeck’s par­ents, who have up­rooted their lives to stay in Santa Bar­bara with their daugh­ter for the near fu­ture. They have also started a ro­ta­tion of fam­ily mem­bers to stay with Waxdeck ev­ery hour of the day.

As of Thurs­day, Waxdeck’s GoFundMe cam­paign has raised $67,500 of its $100,000 goal.

“The sup­port has just been amaz­ing,” she said.

In the af­ter­math of the crash, Kemp said she’s strug­gled with a range of emo­tions.

“The day af­ter the crash was the hardest,” she said. “I felt so bad for the pain that Mar­i­ana was in, and I kept think­ing, ‘How am I so OK?’”

Kemp started the fundrais­ing cam­paign for Sil­ver­man’s med­i­cal ex­penses on April 13. As of Thurs­day, that cam­paign has raised $8,340.

Though she hasn’t seen ei­ther of her friends since the crash, Kemp said she feels the three of them are tied to­gether now by the events of April 6.“We have this tragedy that bonds the three of us for­ever,” she said. “I feel that that is sim­ply a mir­a­cle big­ger than all of us. It is a mir­a­cle we sur­vived and I am so thank­ful.”

TO DO­NATE

To do­nate to Waxdeck’s med­i­cal ex­penses, visit www.gofundme.com/help-keilani -tri­umph-over-tragedy.

To do­nate to Sil­ver­man’s med­i­cal ex­penses, visit www.gofundme.com/ fundraiser-to-sup­port-ourlovely-mar­i­ana.

SANTA BAR­BARA COUNTY FIRE DEPART­MENT

The rem­nants of the head-on col­li­sion on High­way 166 on April 6 that killed two peo­ple.

Erica Kemp

Cal Poly stu­dents Mar­i­ana Sil­ver­man, left, and Keilani Waxdeck, right, were se­ri­ously in­jured in a High­way 166 car crash on April 6 while they were on their way to see the su­per bloom at the Car­rizo Plain.

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