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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.

One of the most creative news photographers in the nation, and such a good guy, he assures us, "I'm going to be better than ever."

WILLIAMSPORT BECKONS: The 2013 Little League World Series isn't until August but Ron Nagy, eager as a cleanup batter on-deck with bases loaded, is getting ready already.

Nagy isn't a kid. He's a 30-year youth baseball umpire living in Kelseyville after a career in law enforcement.

And he just learned he's been picked to be an ump at this year's World Series. He has waited a decade-plus to go to Little League heaven and now, "I got the gold ticket."

He closely followed last year's Series, nearly won by the lionhearted Petaluma National team. He saw those boys close-up when he umped one of their sectional games.

Getting the nod to go to Williamsport is the stuff of dreams for a guy who got his start working games as a boy at the then-new home of Rincon Valley Little League.

"It's all about the kids," said the man in blue. "You give them the best game you can."

GAME ON: Kathleen Miller's head bobbed as she read that item the other day about Rohnert Park councilman Jake Mackenzie surreptitiously checking on the 49ers while warming a pew at Santa Rosa's historic Church of the Incarnation.

In the redwood sanctuary for an organ-and-brass concert, Jake saw on his smartphone that the Niners beat Atlanta and a second later the musicians on the church stage broke into their opening piece, "Rejoice."

The story took Kathleen back to her wedding in that same landmark church on Jan. 14, 1990. What were the Niners doing at the time?

They were coming back from an early 3-0 deficit to rout the L.A. Rams 30-3 in the 1989 NFC Championship — a game heralded as one of best ever played by Joe Montana, or any other quarterback, for that matter.

"All the way through the ceremony," Kathleen recalls, "my brother had the game going in a earpiece and whenever the Niners would score he would turn around and give a thumbs-up.

"Between the brother's actions and the groom's sobbing all the way through the ceremony, it was one of the weirdest starts to a marriage there could be."

(Chris Smith is at 521-5211 and chris.smith@pressdemocrat.com.)