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BILL DWYRE

College soccer star's life and dreams dramatically altered

Kylie Doniak of Chino Hills had set her sights on Olympics, but she was severely injured when struck by a car in Austin, Texas. Her family's days revolve around her recovery; a fundraiser is planned.

July 09, 2012|Bill Dwyre
  • Kylie Doniak was a second team All-Big 12 soccer player at Texas.
Kylie Doniak was a second team All-Big 12 soccer player at Texas. (University of Texas )

It has been five months since a 22-year-old driver ran a red light, plowed through a crosswalk in the early-morning hours in Austin, Texas, and knocked the world of the Dave Doniak family off its axis.

Most severely injured of the three young people struck that night of Feb. 3 was Kylie Doniak. Her pain was immediately felt in Chino Hills.

Still is.

The story of Kylie Doniak is better known in Texas than here. She went from Ayala High School in Chino Hills to become a star player on the Longhorns women's soccer team, a second-team All-Big 12 choice a couple of times and a first-team All-Academic Big 12 athlete three years. She led the team in scoring and charisma.

On the night of the accident, she had been invited to go to downtown Austin by her roommate and her roommate's boyfriend. They'd get a bite to eat, be where all the college kids hang out, and just relax. Kylie had earned a few nights out with friends. She was 21, an honors student with only one semester of college left, only two easy courses away from graduation.

Now, on a regular basis, she asks her parents, Dave and Lori, and her sisters, Alyssa and Makenzy, if she has graduated and if not, why not. Dave says some days they tell her she has, just to appease her. Other days, they assure her it will get done.

"It's a goal," Dave says.

Kylie's massive injuries included a broken leg, broken clavicle, punctured lung, several fractured ribs and innumerable cuts and bruises. As terrible and horrific as those are, they heal. Less predictable in the healing category is the traumatic brain injury, or TBI, as they call it in emergency rooms. The Impala that hit her, driven by Nicholas Colunga, was estimated to be traveling at speeds of 40 to 45 mph. Her roommate and her roommate's boyfriend were less seriously injured and have recovered.

Like any story of personal tragedy, Kylie Doniak's has layers of drama and emotion.

Seconds before she was hit, she and her companions walked past a man on a motorcycle. He was stopped and waiting for the red light to change. His name was Sisto Perez and he told police later that he had said something to the trio about the heavy traffic that night as they walked past. They didn't respond, kept on walking and Perez said he felt a swish from over his shoulder as Colunga sped through the crosswalk. He speculated that, had they stopped to respond, just for a second, they might not have been hit.

Colunga did not stop, so Perez took off after him. About a mile away, Colunga crashed, Perez hauled him out of the car, told police later that Colunga was clearly drunk, and decided he would make sure Colunga would not escape. So he borrowed a belt from a woman standing nearby and, in classic Texan style, hogtied Colunga.

"My daddy didn't raise any cowards," Perez said.

Colunga's trial has been postponed several times and he remains in jail.

The Doniaks got the horrible phone call and flew to Austin on the first flight the next morning.

"It was a slow-motion ride," Dave says.

Life has been similar ever since. It goes on but will never be the same.

All three Doniak daughters were good enough to attend college on soccer scholarships. Alyssa, the oldest at 24, graduated from UC Santa Barbara and is now a sixth-grade teacher, as well as Kylie's constant companion. Makenzy, 18, will attend the University of Virginia starting this fall. Dave teaches in Ontario and Lori is the director of physical therapy at three area hospitals.

Those day jobs are intertwined now with duties as caregivers, as the stewards of the continuing miracle.

The first wave of emotion centered on the possibility that Kylie would not live.

"We sat in the hospital, day after day, staring at the machine that measured how much swelling there was in her brain," Dave says.

Kylie came out of the coma, learned to talk, then to walk. Soon, she got well enough to return to Southern California for therapy, then well enough to go home.

"It is a miracle that she is where she is now," Dave says. "On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being all the way back, she is an 8."

The final two will come hard. With TBI, severe mood swings are common. So is loss of short-term memory. The Doniak family wrestles with both every day.

"We're in a bad period now," Dave says. "It is like walking on eggshells. We just live with the peaks and valleys. I suggest she take a drink of water and she says, 'Why would I do that?' She can tell you who her trainer was at Texas her freshman year, but she can't remember what she had for lunch. It's like there is a devil in her mind."

There are two reasons for telling this story now — one obvious, the other less so.

The obvious: The medical bills are staggering and there will be a fundraiser for Kylie Doniak on July 28 at Los Serranos golf course in Chino Hills. A neighbor named Don Herold is running it and Los Serranos has the details.

The less obvious: We are weeks away from embarking on our every-four-years celebration of the young and athletic, the Kylie Doniaks of the world. Alyssa says the Olympics were once Kylie's dream.

As we embrace the winners in London, let's commiserate about the losers with additional perspective.

Kylie Doniak would have loved to have had the chance to finish fourth.

bill.dwyre@latimes.com

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