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METROLINK COLLISION: FIGHTING FOR LIFE

Student in critical condition

Katie Longawa, 18, was headed home for the first time since starting college at USC when the trains crashed.

September 15, 2008|Hector Becerra | Times Staff Writer

Eighteen-year-old Katie Longawa, a freshman at USC, was on her first trip home from college Friday afternoon.

Now, the USC print journalism student joins dozens of Metrolink passengers who face a grueling recovery from a catalog of injuries that for Longawa include a fractured sternum, spine and ribs; a punctured and collapsed lung; a lacerated liver and bleeding in the chest cavity. On Saturday afternoon, doctors also found that she had a tear in her carotid artery, her mother said -- though they are hopeful that she won't need surgery.

Longawa's homecoming may last longer than she intended, her mother said, with her recovery indefinite and return to college up in the air.

Longawa was among the 135 passengers who were injured Friday when a Metrolink train crashed into a Union Pacific freight train in Chatsworth. Sunday she was reported in critical but stable condition at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills, where five other victims also were in critical condition and eight were hospitalized with lesser injuries.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday, September 17, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 33 words Type of Material: Correction
Metrolink crash: An article in Monday's Section A about USC student Katie Longawa, who was injured in Friday's Metrolink crash, gave the age of her mother, Cherie Phoenix, as 59. Phoenix is 49.

Officials at the hospital said most of the 14 still at the hospital suffered an array of upper-body injuries, including fractures and lacerated organs. The story is likely to be the same for up to 40 critically injured patients at other hospitals.

Longawa's mother, Cherie Phoenix, 59, of Thousand Oaks, camera in hand, was waiting to greet her at the Moorpark train station. But the train did not show up.

Then a woman told Longawa's mother, "There's been a train crash. . . . It's bad. The train's not coming."

Phoenix said she went into crisis mode.

"I thought, 'OK, she's there. How do I get there?' "

She got on the freeway, followed by other people from the station, but the road was jammed. Then she got a call from her husband about what had happened.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa visited some of the patients Sunday afternoon and said of Longawa, "She's really a fighter."

As she rattled off her daughter's injuries, Phoenix winced as she described an especially gruesome one, an injury to her right hip, as if she had been cut to the bone by a crescent-shaped blade. She could only guess that a sharp-edged metal fixture from the tossed-about train had cut her daughter. Phoenix said she expected her to be hospitalized at least two weeks -- but she'll lose at least a semester at USC.

Phoenix said her daughter told her she had been sitting on the left side of the train.

"She saw the freight train coming around a bend in the tracks. She thought, 'Well, this is weird,' " her mother said. "She doesn't remember the impact."

Somehow Longawa got out of the passenger car. A firefighter slung her over his shoulder and laid her down. He told two employees from a nearby school to look after her.

"He turned to them and said, 'Don't let her get up, and don't let her go to sleep,' " Phoenix said.

Longawa gave the Good Samaritans her parents' number to call.

Phoenix had planned to cook a welcome-home meal of pounded fried pork cutlets, egg noodles and a salad. Then they were going to watch the movie "Life or Something Like It."

"I'm just grateful my daughter is alive," Phoenix said.

--

hector.becerra@latimes.com

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