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Santa Rosa benefit for crash victims draws a crowd

  • Cristina Garcia, holding her 11-month-old daughter Maya Isabella Garcia, talks with Art Ibleto, the "Pasta King", and Elsie Allen teacher Lisa DeCarbo during a fundraising event for Garcia and Alexis Vargas at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa, on Sunday, January 27, 2013. Garcia and Vargas were injured in a highway crash in Mexico last month, which killed Garcia's mother, Maria. Ibleto donated his food and resources for the fundraising event.
    (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

Seated in a wheelchair while recovering from injuries suffered in a tragic vehicle crash six weeks ago, Cristina Garcia seemed a bit overwhelmed by the bustling crowd overflowing from Finley Hall at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds.

She smiled gently and let strangers hug her and wish her well.

More than 1,000 people attended a benefit Sunday for Cristina, 16, and her cousin Alexis Vargas, 17, who were seriously injured on Dec. 23 in a traffic accident in Mexico that took the life of Cristina's mother, Mar? Torres Garcia, 46, and injured other family members.

A steady stream of supporters greeted Cristina, who remained seated as her broken pelvis heals.

"Most of them I don't even know," she said, pausing to receive a hug from an older woman who approached. "It's nice to have people around."

Two days before Christmas during a holiday trip to see family, Cristina's father, Francisco, swerved and lost control while driving at night in the state of Coahuila in northern Mexico. The vehicle rolled, pitching its seven occupants inside the SUV.

Cristina's mother died at the scene. Cristina's 10-month-old daughter, Maya, suffered a skull fracture and internal bleeding. Her brother, Daniel, had facial injuries that required skin grafts.

Alexis remains at UC San Francisco hospital for treatment of facial and leg injuries. Steven, Alexis' 11-year-old brother, was ejected from the SUV but was not seriously hurt.

Francisco Garcia, who wasn't seriously injured in the crash, stepped outside the crowded hall Sunday for a breather. Inside, hundreds shared a pasta meal donated by "Pasta King" Art Ibleto or hand-made tacos and other treats.

"It's like family," Garcia said of the love and support he felt from those inside.


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