ASU-bound teen is latest statistic in state accident tally

Smiling in spite of the pain – Kayla Gonzalez survived a horrific accident when she was struck by a vehicle while walking along University Drive in Tempe, but said she’s ‘just trying to get better’ so she can start college. – Wrangler News photo by Noah Kutz

One minute she was a carefree young woman sauntering along the sidewalk in the sunshine, eager to arrange her dorm room on the Tempe campus of Arizona State University.

In a split second, her dad recalled, everything changed.

“The police called to tell me about the accident,” said Victor Gonzalez, whose 18-year old daughter, Kayla, was struck by a vehicle that swerved to avoid an oncoming truck traveling westbound on University Drive west of College Avenue.

Kayla suffered two broken legs plus a broken pelvis. So far, she has undergone five surgeries.

“I have a metal rod going through my leg to stabilize it. It’s my foot, too,” Kayla said. “My big toe got amputated.”

“Her bones were sticking out,” Victor said of seeing his daughter shortly after she was rushed to the hospital.

Tempe Vice Mayor Lauren Kuby, who works at ASU, heard the crash and stood up to look out the window.

“My…co-workers and I either witnessed the accident or its aftermath and the experience was horrific,” Kuby told Wrangler News. “Kayla was crying out in pain and the driver who hit her was distraught. I was haunted by what I saw.”

Later on, Kuby said she couldn’t stop thinking about Kayla and her family and she decided to launch a GoFundMe campaign to help.

“As a mom, I remember how excited I was to send my daughters off to college,” said Kuby. “In one day, Kayla’s life was turned upside down: instead of attending her first day of classes, she was in the operating room, enduring the first of five surgeries. Now school is a year off into the future.”

In spite of the pain, Kayla smiles. “I’m getting there,” she says, but then tears fill her eyes. She faces six to eight months of rehabilitation and must learn to walk again.

“They give me pain medication, but after my surgeries, it’s hard. One of the deans at ASU reached out to me and she’s going to help me defer my scholarships. So I’m going to do a medical leave/withdrawal from ASU just until I’m well,” Kayla said.

It helps that close friend Elizabeth Mendez comes to visit almost every day. Then there’s Kayla’s mom who brings favorite comfort foods.

“I saw on TV that Arizona is the state with the most pedestrian accidents,” Kayla said as she lay in her hospital bed surrounded by family members. “I’m just trying to get better so I can go back to school.”

Kayla was senior class president at McClintock High School in Tempe. She had the New American Scholarship to attend ASU this fall and was looking forward to beginning college with an eye to a career in sports marketing. In high school, she played softball, badminton and soccer.

With limited resources, Kayla’s father, who paints houses, said he only wants what is fair for his daughter. One concern the family has is that Kayla didn’t have health insurance at the time of the accident. The company her father worked for went out of business and he spent months seeking other employment.

“We don’t want anyone to give us things free,” Victor said. “Only what is fair for what happened to her, to heal her. If I had had work eight months ago, I could’ve gotten insurance to cover this.”

Until the insurance claims get sorted out, the GoFundMe campaign seeks donors to help the family during Kayla’s ordeal.

“Tempe is a compassionate city, and I knew that if our residents knew about Kayla, they would come to her aid,” Kuby said.

At press time, the campaign had raised nearly half of its $25,000 goal.




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