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Warm Welcome for Crash Victim

November 27, 2002|Jessica Garrison | Times Staff Writer

After Daniel Fox's car accident, when doctors told his mother that his chances were not good, Toni Fox vowed to bring her child home to Arcadia no matter what.

On Tuesday night, seven months after a head-on collision in upstate New York nearly killed him, Daniel, 19, walked through his front door. His weeping mother was at his side. And so were more than 150 friends, neighbors and even strangers who have kept an electronic vigil for more than seven months praying for the teenager's recovery.

An hour before he arrived from the airport, they already had lined the street, holding candles. As the black limousine, rented by friends, rounded the corner, the Arcadia High School Pep Band -- for which Daniel had played French horn -- struck up "Jungle Boogie."

People hugged and burst into tears, and Daniel, tottering slightly on legs that are not yet completely healed, climbed out and blinked at the crowd, a slow, disbelieving grin spreading.

"Get the boy a French horn!" shouted his uncle, Tod Ruhstaller.

"Don't break him," said his aunt, Sandy Ruhstaller.

On May 3, Fox, a former star member of the Arcadia High School band, was driving along a dark road near Bard College, where he was a freshman, when his car crashed head-on into another vehicle, nearly killing him. The people in the other car survived.

After emergency surgery, he remained in intensive care for more than three months. He underwent brain surgery and heart surgery, followed by months of physical therapy. More than 2,500 miles away, neighbor Mary Ann Luan set up a Web site devoted to his recovery. Many in town say it brought a little magic.

Part journal of Daniel's recovery, part prayer network, and part bulletin board for the families and children who knew him while he was growing up, the site has pulled the community together.

Over the last six months, it has received more than 70,000 hits and more than 2,000 entries from friends and family.

People who didn't know Daniel began signing the guest book. Donations for his medical bills, which are approaching $2 million, poured in. As his return date approached, friends cooked dozens of meals so the family could relax with Daniel over the next few weeks instead of cooking.

A network evolved. It included former teachers, such as Kate Martin, who wrote:

"Hi Daniel. Love and thoughts of strength and courage come from your 'old' kindergarten teacher. You're on my prayer list and that's powerful!!!"

One day, Luan, whose daughter Mindy was one of Daniel's best friends, got a call from representative of Arcadia's Chinese community.

They didn't know Daniel, Luan said, but they had heard about him, and they wanted to donate plane tickets so his family could fly across country and visit him.

On Tuesday night, Daniel said he had only one more plan for the evening: He wanted to go to In-N-Out Burger. As for the future, he's hoping to take a class at Pasadena City College in the spring, and to get back to Bard as soon as he is able.

"It's great to see my friends here," he said.

Recalling the first dark months after her son's accident, Tori Fox watched as he showed off his scars from heart surgery.

"I knew I would come home with him one way or another," she said. "He's amazing."

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