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Patch Exclusive: Q&A with Kelli Groves

After traveling to Santa Barbara to meet with her rescuers, the San Juan Capistrano teacher tells us what the experience was like.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The has been chronicled at San Juan Capistrano Patch. She recently . Afterward, she shared her impressions of the trip with us.

San Juan Capistrano Patch: What was it like driving north? 

Kelli: The ride to Santa Barbara remains one of the most scenic road trips my family takes. This accident didn't take the beauty out of that. While there are certain places I remember stopping at or talking to Sage [her older daughter] about on the way to San Luis Obispo that day of the accident, driving past them was not a fearful experience... just a reminder of everything that happened on that day and in the end, how fortunate we are.

Patch: Did you actually traverse the bridge? What was that like? Did someone else drive? 

Kelli: I did not drive on this trip, so I was able to look around and take it all in.

Patch: What was the reunion like?

Kelli: This reunion was an enormous piece of the recovery puzzle. We have been so blessed to have the family, friends, and community support over the last seven months and could not have reached the point we are at without them all. However, for 2 1/2 hours on that bridge, I experienced fears and desperation that can only be shared by the rescuers on scene. Being able to reconnect with the ones who witnessed the miracles of that day was so comforting. It was a hole that went unfilled until this reunion.

Patch: What kinds of emotions did you experience?  

Kelli: I remain in awe of the men and women of the fire department, CHP, and Seabees. When I saw them and hugged them and thanked them, I felt star struck! They hold such power in their daily jobs. Imagine being able to rescue lives that are so close to ending and giving them more "tomorrows." It is difficult to find the right word for that emotion, if one even exists.

Patch: Do you feel like your gratitude has been adequately expressed, or is that even possible? 

Kelli: For me, I will never be able to thank them enough for their determination, commitment, and strength. And maybe I'm not supposed to. I think of them every day, and that won't change. Each time my children smile or sing a song or act goofy, I think of them. Even when they throw fits, won't eat their vegetables, and argue with each other, I think of them. And what I think about is how grateful I am to be able to watch my children grow up and experience all of life's precious moments. It is a gift the rescuers restored and one that I am eternally grateful for.

Patch: What did you learn about the crash day you didn't already know? 

Kelli: I learned more about the incredible fortune of the Seabees being so close to the accident. They were actually running late because one of their other vehicles had broke down. Instead of separating and continuing home, they waited to return together, a delay that resulted in their presence on the bridge. Amongst them was only one person licensed to operate the forklift. I think of how things could have turned out if the Seabees hadn't stayed together – an entirely different ending to this story may have been written.

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