It all happens in seconds.
A driver briefly closes their eyes, perhaps exhausted by the day. Concentration is lost, only for a moment. A steering wheel turns slightly too far.
And a vehicle crashes off the road, leaving family, friends, and a community in a shocked state of grief.
On Sept. 13 and Oct. 28, the stories of three Mountain Area teens took such tragic turns. But the Mountain Area has rallied behind them, with fundraisers planned and donation methods available for two who survived.
And one of them, who recently woke up, has served as a light in the darkness for not only her family, but for another whose son and brother has yet to open his eyes.
The list of injuries for Haley Phillips, a 20-year-old Coarsegold resident, were extensive after a devastating wreck on Tuesday, Sept. 13.
She and her friend O’Neill Ewell, also 20 of Bass Lake, were getting ready to celebrate Ewell’s 21st birthday just a few days later. They were traveling north on Highway 41 near Serpa Canyon Road when, for unknown reasons, the vehicle - with Ewell as the driver - drifted off the north side of the road and caused her to lose control.
The car crashed into a tree and killed Ewell. Phillips was airlifted to Community Regional Medical Center of Fresno with severe head trauma, brain swelling, a lacerated liver and four broken ribs.
Phillips spent several weeks in a coma until her mother, Michelle Sullivan, had her wish granted when her daughter woke up and said two simple words.
Though Phillips has returned largely to silence, she is awake and undergoing positive recovery treatment every day, Sullivan said. She added she has confidence her daughter - recently transferred to Valley Children’s Hospital - will make a full recovery.
To help the Phillips family, a fundraising dinner will be held from 4 - 8 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 10, at Sierra Sky Ranch. The charge is $10 for adults and $7 for children, with all proceeds going to Haley’s family to help cover medical costs.
An online donation site is also available by clicking here, with nearly $3,000 donated thus far. Another was set up for Ewell’s funeral expenses but taken down at her family’s request.
“Thank you for all your love and support,” said Ramona Ewell, Ewell’s mother. “I hope I can move forward with all the strength your prayers are giving.”
When donations first began pouring in, everyone who knew the girls said they had faith Phillips would recover, and with the latest updates, those hopes are coming true, one day at a time.
“Our family knows she will get through this and be better before we know it,” her cousin Chanelle Parker said. “She’s one tough cookie.”
Oct. 28, a Friday, was a normal day for Nic Medina.
The 19-year-old from Coarsegold was on his way to visit friends in Yosemite Lakes Park when he drove around a turn on Road 417 towards Highway 41, and lost control of his car.
Medina, by himself in the vehicle, cut across the road which caused an SUV to slam into its passenger side. He was immediately knocked unconscious.
Airlifted to Community Regional Medical Center of Fresno, Medina has yet to wake up. The initial diagnosis was a traumatic brain injury, and doctors said Medina may wake up in six months to a year.
Outside that, family and friends describe Medina as a kind soul, a best friend, and an amazing son. And with Haley’s story, they’ve found further hope the loveable young man will return to them soon.
“Everyone please focus your thoughts and prayers today on this,” Medina’s parents Dan and Martha Medina said in a statement. “Nicolas will wake and recover fully without deficits. He will be fully recovered and come home as he was before he left in the name of Jesus ... he knows he is loved, he feels love surrounding him. Please focus and pray as if Nic is your own child.”
“We are all so, so happy that Haley woke up,” added Cheryce Chartier, a longtime family friend. “It gives us hope, you know? It gives us hope that he can wake up too.”
Medina, an employee at the Raley’s grocery store in Oakhurst, is already showing signs of becoming whole once again.
After an MRI in early November, Medina moved his lips. A few days later, he gave his mom a thumbs up, and tightly squeezed her hand before she had to go home for the night.
“His mom asked him to move his thumb and he did,” Chartier said. “We know he can hear us, but right now, he can’t really respond other than that ... He’s in a full coma. But we’re here visiting, and praying, and hoping something positive will happen soon.”
“When something so terrible and frightening happens like this, it’s as if the world takes a pause and time slows down,” added Annelise Johnson, Medina’s friend. “It is still very hard to wrap this around our heads, but there is hope. We all have hope for him, and we know that he can get through this.”
To help cover Medina’s medical bills, an online donation site is available by clicking here. More than $3,400 had been donated by the time of this story. Donations are also accepted at Golden One Credit Union through bank account number 0074997603.