Members of a small Thousand Oaks church grieved over the death of a 15-year-old cheerleader and the critical injury of a 16-year-old high school athlete Sunday, after learning that a minivan bound for a weekend church retreat had collided with a car going the wrong way in Santa Barbara County.
Two people in the car also died in the accident, which occurred about 12:30 a.m. Saturday on U.S. 101 near Refugio Road.
Kimberly Kimble Gast, a sophomore at Agoura High School, was pronounced dead six hours after the crash. Kimble Gast, a Calabasas resident and member of the congregation at Conejo Valley Church of Christ, was traveling with three other teens and one of their parents to a youth church event near Pismo Beach.
The driver of the minivan, Michael Rivas, 16, of Agoura Hills suffered severe injuries to his legs. Rivas, who plays defensive back for the Oaks Christian High School football team, had just helped his team win a game Friday evening, hours before the crash.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday September 23, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 40 words Type of Material: Correction
Injured athlete -- A headline in some editions of Monday's California section misidentified the school attended by an Agoura Hills athlete who was injured in a traffic accident. Michael Rivas goes to Oaks Christian High School, not Oak Park High.
Rivas' father and two other 16-year-olds were also injured, but not as severely. The driver of the car and a passenger were pronounced dead at the scene. The driver's blood will be tested to determine whether alcohol was a factor in the crash, according to the California Highway Patrol. Their identities were not released.
News of the crash hit the church's 300 members extremely hard at services Sunday. "There has been a lot of praying and crying," said Andy Wall, a church minister. "It's been very difficult ... there are a lot of young people here who are really hurting."
Kimble Gast, captain of her cheerleading team at Agoura High, was described as a sunny and studious girl who had overcome a series of family hurdles, including the unexpected death of her mother in July.
"She was incredibly resilient," said Michael Murrie, a professor of journalism and television at Pepperdine University. "She had a lot of hardships with her mother's death. Her father and mother were divorced when she was about 3, and I don't think that she's seen much of her father over the years."
The girl had been living with Murrie and his wife, Jackie, since her mother's death, and the couple were in the process of becoming Kimble Gast's legal guardians. Murrie said her mother's death came as a severe blow because it seemed so sudden. The mother, he said, had undergone knee surgery and appeared fine immediately afterward, but fatal complications soon developed.
Wall said Kimble Gast seemed cheerful despite a difficult past.
"She was fun-loving and outgoing," Wall said. "She enjoyed talking to everyone. She was a sunny person with a sweet smile. She was a little boy crazy, but that's OK."
Rivas, a junior and straight-A student, also enjoyed playing soccer and other sports.
"The good thing is, he wasn't killed," said Bill Redell, the school's football coach. "He's a great kid. He's a brilliant student, a very fine athlete and a very well thought-of young man."
Redell said he and many others visited Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, but were unable to see Rivas because he was still in intensive care. Redell said he last saw Rivas on Friday night, after a football game at Oaks Christian. Redell said the student asked him if he could skip a regularly scheduled Saturday-afternoon football meeting so that he could attend the retreat.
"I said he could go, but looking back on it I wish I said he couldn't," Redell said.
Before leaving for the retreat, Rivas helped his team beat Village Christian with a score of 55-20. During the evening game, the lights went out for 20 minutes due to a technical difficulty, forcing a suspension of play while the problem was addressed.
"It's ironic," Redell said. "If the lights didn't go out, the game would have ended sooner. Maybe this never would have happened."