Absent their usual bubbly excitement, Elsie Allen High School cheerleaders somberly took to the gym bleachers Saturday afternoon in Santa Rosa with a brown collection box.
The girls asked spectators at the girls basketball game for donations to help fellow Elsie Allen cheerleaders Cristina Garcia, 16, and her cousin Alexis Vargas, 17, who were critically injured in a traffic accident in Mexico Dec. 23 that took the life of Cristina's mother, Mar? Torres Garcia, 46.
At the entrance to the gym, more Elsie Allen cheerleaders sold cupcakes, cookies and other baked goods to help raise money for the girls and other their families injured in the one-vehicle roll-over. A similar bake sale held during two pre-season boys basketball games Friday night raised about $145, they said.
"They're like family to us," said Amelia Khoupradit, a 2012 Elsie Allen graduate who had served on the cheerleading squad with Cristina and Alexis. "When we heard that they all didn't have the money to come back and to get medical care, the cheerleaders started organizing."
Khoupradit and the cheerleaders said that they've been circulating collection boxes in their neighborhoods and placing boxes in markets. They hope the modest collections are only the beginning of what could become a groundswell of support that includes efforts by Sonoma County Supervisor Efren Carrillo, Elsie Allen teachers and friends of the families.
The accident occurred while Cristina's father, Francisco Garcia, a saw operator with Golden State Lumber in San Rafael, was driving the family's Chevrolet Tahoe through the state of Coahuila in northern Mexico on the way to the state of Guanajuato in Central Mexico.
The family had planned to spend the Christmas holiday in El Jaral del Refugio, a small community just north of Acambaro in southern Guanajuato.
Sonoma County relatives of Francisco Garcia say that the accident occurred when Garcia swerved to avoid hitting an animal in the roadway. He lost control of the SUV and it rolled, killing Garcia's wife and severely injuring others.
Family members said the accident is still under investigation but they refuted early reports in a Mexican newspaper that Francisco had dozed off behind the wheel of the SUV because of a lack of sleep.
Cristina Garcia, who was transferred Wednesday to University Hospital in San Antonio, Texas, is recovering from a number of injuries. She is in stable but critical condition and will undergo surgery to her pelvis on Tuesday.
Alexis Vargas was recovering Saturday from facial surgery that involved the area around one eye, said her father, Gabriel Vargas, a health promoter and medical assistant at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital. Vargas, speaking by telephone from her his daughter's room at Christus Muguerza Hospital in Saltillo, said she also has undergone surgery to her nose, cheek bone and a leg.
"I've been with her all the time; It's just me and her at the hospital right now," he said. "She's okay, but there are some times that she's anxious because of the medicine and her surgery on her leg and ankle and her eye."
Eliana Torres, a cousin of the two girls, said that Cristina's eight-month-old daughter sustained internal bleeding and a skull fracture, though she is stable. Vega said that Cristina's older brother, Daniel, is at University Hospital awaiting skin grafts to replace lost facial skin. He is in stable condition.