It has been a long road for Cal Baptist University student Marisa Benson. On her first day of school on August 9, 2010, she jumped into a van carrying 11 fellow members of her school's cross-country team. She talks with Tony Shin about the crash nine months ago this week that changed her life forever.
It has been a long road for Cal Baptist University student Marisa Benson. On her first day of school on August 9, 2010, she jumped into a van carrying 11 fellow members of her school's cross-country team.
"I had never run with them," Benson said in an exclusive interview with NBCSanDiego. "I was really excited to get to know them on the ride up."
The team, driven by cheer leading coach Wendy Rice, 35, was heading up U.S. 395 from Riverside County to Mammoth for high altitude training.
As they neared Bishop a Ford Expedition carrying four San Diegans crossed into oncoming traffic.
"I just remember a flash," said Benson.
The Expedition rolled across northbound lanes and right into the driver's side of Marisa's team van.
Marisa was sitting one row back.
"And then I woke up and I was two inches from Wendy's seat," Benson recalled. "My window was blown out, I could reach out, I could feel the heat from the fire."
Benson was trapped behind Wendy Rice. "I could hear the way
she was breathing, she was dying," Benson said.
It took firefighters nearly 20 minutes to cut through the roof and extricate Benson from the van. Other team members suffered burns, cuts and bruises.
Rice died at the scene, as did recent Cathedral Catholic High School graduates Natalie Nield, 17, and Amanda Post, 18.
San Diego trainer John Adams, 39, died a few months later from severe burns all over his body.
Post's boyfriend and fellow Cathedral graduate Derek Thomas, 19, was also severely burned along with USD soccer player Drew Delis, 22.
Benson's right leg was shattered in the collision. "I didn't think I could run again," Benson said.
After nine months of rehabilitation, she still has a slight limp but improving. "Now, I'm at the point where I can run two miles and I'm going to push through that and get farther," Benson said.
The crash happened exactly nine months ago Monday. Last week, Benson and her family drove to the crash scene as another step toward closure.
She found a small memorial of crosses for the four victims who didn't survive including Wendy Rice. "This was a way I could still deal with her death."
CHP investigators said Nield was driving the Expedition when for some reason she drifted into the right shoulder and then cut across into northbound traffic.
They told Benson that the results of the crash investigation would be released by the end of May.
"I think we would all like to know what happened, you know what caused it, why did we go through this," Benson said.
Benson is still on Cal Baptist's cross-country team, but hasn't run with her teammates yet.
She hopes to do so, when the team heads up to Mammoth this August for high altitude training.
"Ultimately when I can race again, that will be normal for me, that will be what it was like before," Benson said about her recovery. "I'll have made it, I'll finally have made it all the way."