A television set blared in the background, but the dozen people crammed into a narrow hospital waiting room Sunday afternoon weren’t watching.
Instead, they talked quietly--reminiscing, grieving, sometimes praying.
And whenever new friends or relatives joined them, businessman Jerry Robinson would say softly, “She’s holding her own. She’s still here.”
A few yards away, in Western Medical Center-Santa Ana’s intensive-care unit, Robinson’s daughter, 23-year-old Faith, was fighting for her life.
According to officials from the California Highway Patrol, in the dark hours before dawn Saturday the young Westminster woman had driven the wrong way on the San Diego Freeway for eight miles, from Westminster to Costa Mesa, before she slammed head-on into a northbound car.
Irvine civil engineer Sang In Ahn died in the crash and his wife, Ook-Ja, was critically injured. She remained in a coma Sunday at UCI Medical Center in Orange.
Robinson, a part-time bartender and aspiring dancer, was also critically injured, with both lungs collapsed, her left eye gone and both legs, her nose and left arm broken. She was listed in guarded condition Sunday night.
The accident left Robinson’s family distraught and perplexed.
“We saw her at 10 o’clock Friday night. She was happy. She was going to see some friends,” said her mother, Jeri Robinson.
Born and raised in Huntington Beach, Faith knew the freeways well, Jeri Robinson said. And her daughter had everything to live for--a steady boyfriend, a job and, recently, a television show’s offer to audition as a dancer.
Faith was working days at her father’s photo supply business, then as a bartender at Silky Sullivan’s in Fountain Valley at night. But Faith was a “night owl,” used to staying out late, Jeri Robinson said.
“It doesn’t make sense,” she said. “It doesn’t make sense.”
Fifteen miles away in Irvine, another family was grieving--and trying to make sense of senseless tragedy.
“She was driving eight miles the wrong way! We don’t understand why the police didn’t stop it!” said John Won, Ook-Ja Ahn’s cousin who served as the family spokesman. He added that CHP officers had received “a lot of calls” from other freeway drivers reporting the wrong-way driver. “We don’t understand. We are very concerned about it.”
Relatives gathered in the Ahns’ modest home Sunday where a television room had been converted into a shrine. Bouquets of flowers including a large vase of white and yellow chrysanthemums were set beside a black-and-white photograph of Ahn. His funeral is scheduled for 11 a.m. Wednesday at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 10212 Stanford Ave., Garden Grove. A viewing will take place Tuesday at the church from 7 to 9 p.m.
Ahn’s three children, Andrew, 18, Angela, 16, and Johnny, 7, spent the afternoon at the church, which is helping the children through this crisis, Won said. The older children “are very sad about their dad,” he added. But the youngest had refused to believe that his father was dead. “He doesn’t know what happened,” Won said. “He doesn’t know such a thing as death.”
Won said he and other relatives had spent all Saturday at UCI Medical Center, hoping that Ook-Ja Ahn would come out of the coma. But they decided to stay away Sunday, after a doctor told them that for the next 72 hours “nobody knows what will happen. . . . There may be brain damage.”
The family is hoping that Ook-Ja Ahn will recover and be able to care for the children, Won said. “We really hope the mother becomes good. Hopefully, she takes care of the kids as usual, as before.” But if not, he said, relatives hope a beloved uncle, Myung Soon, who also lives in Irvine, can stay with the children.
Won and other cousins complained that the CHP had not given them a complete account of the accident. All he knew was that the Korean-born couple were on a monthly religious outing, to the Mormon Temple in West Los Angeles, when they were hit.
The Ahns were an educated, hard-working couple, Won said. Sang-In Ahn got his civil engineering degree 20 years ago from Brigham Young University, then worked as a consultant in Orange County and recently had helped develop shopping centers. Ook-Ja Ahn graduated from college in Korea and gave up working as a registered nurse to rear their three children.
The Ahns’ living room was a showpiece of family togetherness. Photographs of the children lined the mantel, and a formal, poster-size photograph of the family hung on the wall.
CHP officials Sunday could offer no additional explanation for the accident. Spokeswoman Linda Burris said that a southbound CHP unit had tried to catch up with Robinson’s car and that a second unit, heading north, about “one minute away” from her when the crash occurred. Had there been time, that unit would have turned on lights and sirens, hoping to catch her attention. “But we never caught up to her,” Burris said.
For now, “We can’t even speculate on what caused this,” Burris said. No blood-alcohol levels of the drivers were available, she said, nor does she know what Robinson was doing before she got on the freeway.
“It’s kind of hard. We have a solo driver. She had an appointment book. The only thing she’d done was had her nails done that day,” Burris said. “She may have gone out, stayed overnight at a friend’s house, got up early, and been tired--and who knows?”