Survivor of deadly crash reflects on 15-year anniversary

It's a somber anniversary for several local families. Fifteen years ago Wednesday, three Madera teenagers died in a car accident. But a fourth person in that car survived.
February 12, 2014 12:00:00 AM PST
It's a somber anniversary for several local families. Fifteen years ago Wednesday, three Madera teenagers died in a car accident. But a fourth person in that car survived.

Today, that man still struggles with both the physical and emotional pain of that tragic day. But he's learning to live life with purpose, because his friends never got that chance.

The no passing zone signs on a rural stretch of Highway 145 near Avenue 37 in Madera County are the only visible reminders of what happened there 15 years ago, when four teenagers in a red Pontiac Tempest collided head-on with an oncoming car while trying to pass another car at the crest of a hill.

And every year since then, Dustin Vincent, the only survivor in that Pontiac, finds himself standing at the gravesites of his three friends that died that day: Kalen Sylvester, Daylin Preciado and Mitch Arrechte.

This year, Dustin visited Arbor Vitae Cemetary with his girlfriend Caitie Bernard, who provided support on this difficult day. When I asked if he remembers that night, Dustin sighed, "In segments. We were actually on our way to a bible study. We weren't trying to, we weren't trying to do anything crazy."

Recovery was a difficult road. Dustin was critically hurt, in a coma for seven weeks. Doctors told his mother he'd never walk again. Action News cameras were there when he did walk out of the hospital three months later. He says he received tremendous encouragement from the community, including the families of the three who died.

The 31-year-old still bears some physical scars, but he say it's the emotional scars that are slow to heal. "My friends age with me so every year so I feel it over, and over, and over again. Why me? Why did I survive? And I still don't have that answer. I believe God has a plan, he has a purpose."

He's fought off depression and survivor's guilt by helping others heal by becoming a massage therapist. He's also shared his story with audiences here at home and around the country, as part of a touring group of actors.

But his saving grace has been his faith. Dustin found love, support and purpose at his church The Well in Northeast Fresno.

And even though there are still some days he can barely get out of bed, he vows to keep going.

"Be alive and interact with people. Do things. It's not about climb the highest mountain. But it's just living the day to day. Enjoying every moment in life," he said.


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