Kevin and Cindy Adair had been married just three months when their lives fell out from under them.
They were among the 10 people standing on three ventilation gratings on a Redondo Beach parking garage when the gratings collapsed last January. One man was killed in the 22-foot plunge to the concrete floor below. Nine others were injured.
Nearly seven months after the accident, most of the victims are still undergoing medical treatment, and some said they still are trying to deal with the nightmare emotionally. Two have not returned to their jobs.
All but one have filed claims against the city, which owns the garage. The city has rejected the claims, and most victims said they are planning to file lawsuits.
Attorney Douglas C. Purdy, who is representing Redondo Beach, said the city has completed its investigation of the accident, but he would not discuss why the grates collapsed. He said the city will probably file lawsuits against any companies involved with the design and manufacture of the grates and garage that could be held liable for the accident.
The Adairs, like most of the victims, had been among the more than 10,000 runners who competed in a 10-kilometer race held annually on Super Bowl Sunday. They were in the park-like plaza on the roof of the garage, built against a hillside, to take part in the party and awards ceremony held after the race. The party is usually held at the nearby Seaside Lagoon, but that area had been damaged by a storm two weeks earlier.
The couple, who live in Carlsbad in San Diego County, said they remember falling for what seemed like a long time. "When I landed," Cindy said, "it was like my feet just exploded."
Cindy, 29, said that she didn't realize that her husband was hurt, too, until someone told her in the ambulance. "And then I really freaked out."
Kevin recalls seeing his wife after the fall; he especially remembers her bloodied feet. He tried to help her, but he was in shock and had trouble breathing. His right lung had collapsed and required surgery.
Kevin also sprained his feet and his body was covered with bruises. His shoulder, wrist and several ribs were broken, although several of the fractures were not discovered until after he was released from the hospital a week later--on his 30th birthday.
Both of Cindy's heels were shattered and her back was broken. She has had surgery three times so far--twice on her back and "once on my heels when they put them back together." Another operation is planned for early next year to remove the rods in her back.
Cindy was hospitalized for a month after the accident and couldn't walk for about four months.
'Will Never Run Again'
"It's extremely painful when I walk," said Cindy, who ran 5 to 10 miles a day before the accident and competed in races for the past five years. "I was a good runner. Now they tell me I will never run again, which is a real sad thought."
She is hoping the doctors are wrong, but for now the farthest she can manage to walk is about one block, she said. For longer ventures, she must use a wheelchair.
Cindy, who is a purchasing manager for a company in San Marcos, has not returned to work. Her doctors estimate that it will take another year for her to recover, and that she will probably always have pain in her heels.
"Sometimes," Kevin said, "I wish me and my wife could switch roles, and I would have taken the brunt of the fall. I talked her into running (in the race)."
Kevin, a wine salesman, returned to work in late April. At first he could not lift cases of wine, but he has regained much of his strength. He still goes to a chiropractor once a week.
Before the accident, Kevin and Cindy said, they were physically active and danced, ran and worked out regularly. Since they were forced to quit, each has gained about 20 pounds.
"The hardest thing on us is just mental," Kevin said. Both said the accident has brought them closer, even though it has put a strain on their young marriage. Cindy sees a psychiatrist, and Kevin sees a counselor. "It's helping a lot," Cindy said.
Both have nightmares about the accident and both now fear heights. The accident also has caused financial problems, the Adairs said. Although they have medical insurance, they had to pay for some hospital equipment needed at home. They have had to borrow money, Cindy said.
They are planning to file lawsuits, but Cindy said: "There is no amount of money that they could pay me that would make it worth it. . . . I'd rather have my health."
Another married couple hurt in the accident, Jim Chen and Jackie Szymanek of Palos Verdes Estates, said they are in constant pain.
"My whole life--the way I think about things--has changed," said Chen, who was the most seriously injured of the survivors.
He said he is considering selling his car repair business in Redondo Beach because he cannot handle stress anymore. The couple had not run in the race but had volunteered to hand out refreshments.