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SMITH: Big turnout expected in support of cousins hurt in deadly crash

There's no telling how many people will come to the Sonoma County Fairgrounds Sunday afternoon for the unusual community gathering prompted by a tragic, pre-Christmas highway crash in Mexico.

Organizers hope there will be a plate of Art Ibleto's pasta and a chair for everybody. But if it turns out Finley Hall can't contain the outpouring for injured cousins Alexis Vargas, 17, and Cristina Garcia, 16, that won't be a bad thing.

Each person's presence will be a gift to relatives of the girls, both of whom have incurred tremendous medical expenses since the crash that killed Cristina's mother, Mar?.

The fairgrounds event, to run from 2 to 6 p.m., will serve as a memorial, a community supper and a musical celebration that Alexis and Cristina survived and are coming along.

Cristina is now back at home, and getting around in a wheelchair. Alexis remains in treatment at UCSF.

"Everywhere I go, people ask about the girls," said their principal, Mary Gail Stablein of Santa Rosa's Elsie Allen High. She said the other day that donations of items for Sunday's silent auction had her office looking like a department store.

The way that all sorts of people are rallying for the girls and their families is breathtaking. Sunday at the fairgrounds, it continues.

JOHN ON THE MEND: Grateful to the paramedics who saved his life and to everyone who's expressed caring since his goal-line heart attack at the 49ers-Packers game, PD photographer John Burgess is now back home.

John underwent bypass surgery at UCSF and though he's not yet up to frolicking with daughter Emma Rose and the dog, or covering a Super Bowl, he's getting there.

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