LAKE FOREST — A van carrying a mother, baby-sitter and three young children from Irvine was broadsided as it emerged from the Foothill Transportation Corridor toll road Saturday afternoon, killing a 4-year-old girl and sending others to the hospital.
--Los Angeles Times, May 26, 1996
A routine account of a Memorial Day weekend traffic accident. The victims are nameless and the details are few, but they convey life-changing tragedy. Parents reading it see their worst nightmare: the death of a child. What about the survivors? How do they go on?
The mother driving the van was Jana Alayra, a Christian singer-songwriter whose upbeat children's songs are performed in churches nationwide. The child killed in the crash was her daughter, Eryn Lynn ("Lynnie").
The experience was indeed life-changing for Alayra, who emerged from it with a stronger sense of her faith and with a new mission in reaching out to children and adults.
"The faith I sing about is even more real because a part of me is already in heaven," she told a recent gathering of mothers.
"Anything we try to hold on to--our parents, our children, our jobs, our security--can be gone overnight," she said. "The only thing that will never change is that I am a child of God. He is the anchor for my soul."
Her life took on a new dimension. She began speaking to women's groups with the hope of bringing comfort to those who have had a similar experience.
"I never intended to be a speaker," she said. "But if I can bring the blessing of comfort to someone who is grieving, then I consider it a unique privilege."
Alayra, who once taught second grade in Santa Ana, began her music career by leading worship at church services and vacation Bible school. While serving as the children's music coordinator at Forest Home Christian Conference Center, she met children's music artist Mary Rice Hopkins and became her backup singer for six years. She began writing and performing songs and produced a CD, "Free Indeed," in 1989. Like her later releases, the recording was self-financed and produced.
She released a second CD, "Here in Your Hands," in 1992 shortly after the birth of her daughter Hayley and a devastating divorce from her first husband.
A few years later, she married Ron Alayra, a musician she knew from church. She got pregnant with Lynnie right away and another daughter, Brittany, came along in 1995.
She and her new husband formed a band with friends and began performing her children's songs at churches throughout the state.
She released "Jump Into The Light", a collection of children's songs produced by Ron, and "There Will Come a Day," selections of her adult praise music produced by John Andrew Schreiner in 1995.
The day of the accident began like any other. In the morning, Alayra and the children skated around the neighborhood. When she put them down for a nap in the afternoon, she kissed Lynnie's chubby cheeks. "She had these huge cheeks and I loved to kiss them," she said. "I never would have dreamed that would be the last time."
Around 4:30 p.m., she and the kids headed over to Saddleback Valley Community Church in Lake Forest, where she was scheduled to sing at the evening service. Their 13-year-old baby-sitter, Denee Heinrichs, was along to watch the kids while Alayra performed. Ron stayed behind to work in the studio on a new CD.
Heading south toward Lake Forest, she exited the Foothill Transportation Corridor at Portola Parkway and accidentally ran the light at the intersection. Her Mazda MPV was struck broadside by a four-wheel-drive pickup heading south on Portola.
"There was hurt and glass and crying and screaming," Alayra said. Injured and disoriented, she turned to check on the children. "Hayley was crying and Brittany was crying. And then I looked in Lynnie's eyes," she said. "I knew she was gone. I could see that she was no longer there."
A bystander put her arms around Alayra and led her over to the curb. The woman began praying softly, "Lord, you are faithful. You know this woman's life. Protect her and comfort her. You will be her future, you will be her peace."
Alayra remembers desperately begging God to bring Lynnie back, but as they prayed, she felt herself letting go. "I felt God's peace," she said. "God sent that woman to tell me what was true . . . that God was with me and would help me through this."
Alayra and the others in the van were not seriously injured. The occupants of the pickup truck were not hurt.
Afterward, she struggled with unbearable regret. If only she'd waited at the intersection . . . if only she'd left at a different time . . . if only she'd taken a different route.
"I began to recognize these thoughts as the words of the enemy," she said. "It's part of the spiritual warfare that Christians face. I knew it would destroy me if I let it."