Sitting in a wheelchair, Ling Murray arrived at a benefit for her family Sunday and was immediately inundated by people wanting to give the Rohnert Park woman a hug, encouragement and sympathy.
"I'm very happy. I want to say &‘thank you,'" Murray said, in response to the outpouring that alternately made her cry and smile.
It was Murray's first public appearance since the Dec. 1 night when she and her young daughter, Calli, were struck by a car as they walked in a Snyder Lane crosswalk.
Calli, 2, died. Murray, 42, suffered severe injuries and just last week began to walk again.
The Sunday event was sponsored by the Fabulous Women of Petaluma. The community-based charitable effort had help from other local groups including sixth-graders from Corona Creek Elementary in Rohnert Park who auctioned off artwork to help raise money for the Murray family.
The benefit was held at the Sally Tomatoes event hall in east Rohnert Park. It drew hundreds of people and included an auction, potluck and dancing.
"It's incredible. It means the world to us," said Jeff Murray, Ling's husband.
He pushed her wheelchair in a slow procession, stopping more than moving as people came up to offer the couple their support.
"We couldn't be as strong as we are today without the support of this community," Jeff Murray said.
Ling Murray's two legs were braced, as well as one arm. Her difficult recovery has progressed so that she now can take several steps.
The purpose of the benefit was twofold, said Sandy Fetter, one of the organizers. It was to provide financial help for the family, which has no medical insurance, and spread the word of the dangers of texting and driving.
Murray and her daughter were walking home to their apartment from Sunrise Park after dark when they were struck.
They were hit by driver Kaitlin Dunaway, an 18-year-old student at Sonoma State University.
The young woman told police she'd been texting but also said she'd gotten a phone call about the time of the collision, according to a police report filed to obtain her cell phone records.
Rohnert Park police haven't released their findings, including whether she was texting or talking. They have given their investigation to the Sonoma County District Attorney's Office to determine if Dunaway should face criminal charges.
Sunday's event included many people sporting black T-shirts with the message "Don't text and drive."
The event drew people who knew the Murrays as well as strangers just drawn in out of a desire to help, such as Jeff Wild and his Rohnert Park family.
"I'd be just devastated if this happened to me," said Wild.
Amy Swanson, 16, came with her mom, Kelly Swanson. The two Santa Rosa residents had a connection to both families involved in the Dec. 2 accident and came to support the Murrays.
Amy played volleyball with driver Dunaway, who'd been a Petaluma High School volleyball standout and now plays for SSU. Kelly Swanson played rec league volleyball against Ling Murray's team.
Amy Swanson is a new driver and the fatal collision involving someone she knows made a big impact, she said.
"I never really did it, (text and drive) but this reinforced the fact" that it's dangerous, she said.