Celebrating life a year later: Bird Rock crash victims, families gather with firefighters

By Dave Schwab

Staff Writer

A year after a tragic drunken driving crash that seriously injured La Jolla teens Alani Aguerre, Ian Brininstool and Myles Polger, they, their families and the firefighters who ministered to them gathered to mark the occasion with food, camaraderie and good cheer.

“Sometimes it’s an unpredicted series of events that turns strangers into friends — and that’s certainly what happened,” said Lorne Polger, Myle’s father, at a party at the Aguerre residence Monday night, the one-year anniversary of the incident.

Noting the outcome “could have been dramatically worse,” Polger added, “We’re just incredibly lucky.”

“To life … and you should all have happy, healthy lives,” he said leading a toast.

Thankfulness was the keynote of the evening.

Santiago Aguerre, father of Alani who was the most seriously injured when she was been pinned beneath the car that struck the trio in front of the Cass Street Cafe, was thankful his daughter’s life was spared.

“It must probably be one of the biggest pains a parent could feel, losing a kid — and we were almost there,” he wrote in an e-mail as he was out of town Monday. “And it is probably the happiest sentiment a parent could feel, seeing a loved young one come back to health — and we are almost there.”

Noting the past year has been “a very hard sentimental roller coaster” for his family, Aguerre thanked “all the great people that helped, cared, called, e-mailed and just supported us in many ways: that it is also your success story as well as Alani’s.”

“We are thankful to have her every day,” said his wife Cecilia Aguerre, noting the incident hasn’t really changed her philosophy of life. “We’ve always been aware how fragile life is,” she said.

The purpose of the crash anniversary observance was to commemorate “the miracle that let us be together and to thank our God, angels, destiny,” she added.

Alani, who will be a sophomore at The Bishop’s School this year, said the incident has changed her perspective.

“Every day is more special, and it’s a gift to have,” she said, noting her long rehabilitation from multiple surgeries has “taken a lot of patience” with her days planned around physical therapy.

“She was amazingly mature the way she reacted to the whole situation even though she was in pain mentally and spiritually, but very determined to get well, to go back to school, to play sports,” her mother said. “She never forgot her goal.”

Cecilia noted Alani made the honor roll and played lacrosse after returning to school last year.

Jeff Macelli was dining with his wife Sherry inside the Bird Rock café on about 7 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 15, 2010, when Ronald Troyer’s car crashed into the restaurant. At the anniversary party, he said he was thankful when Ronald Troyer, the car’s driver who had a long history of substance abuse, was sentenced to a long prison term.

“He’s in a place where he’s not going to hurt anybody again,” Macelli said. “There’s no question the justice system is screwed up when this kind of thing can happen over and over again.”

Firefighter Leslie Gallo, at the event with several others who responded that night, was thankful for being able to interact with people she’d helped after the fact because it’s so rare.

“We made a difference,” she said with a note of pride.

Capt. Tony Rivas, the firefighter who supervised emergency relief on the crash scene a year ago, was thankful that fate could sometimes be kind.

“It was a miracle that no one was killed,” he said, pointing out the “physics” of the way the crash went down “couldn’t happen again if you tried.”

“I don’t know why things like that happen to anybody,” he added. “But what I have learned in life is to try and find some reason to be positive, whether to appreciate your own life or appreciate the country we live in that has the emergency medical system that we do.”

Speaking for all assembled, Rivas said, “We’re thankful that everything turned out like this. … It’s just really nice.”