A mother and daughter, both of whom worked as veterinarians in San Diego, have been identified as the two women killed in a head-on crash in Chula Vista.
Friends confirm mother Diane Defenbaugh, 60, and her daughter, Kathryn “Katy” Defenbaugh, 29, died in the tragic collision on southbound State Route 125 in Chula Vista Thursday.
Katy was celebrating her 29th birthday. The duo were planning to go to SeaWorld for the special occasion but, sadly, never made it there.
Loved ones said Diane and Katy, both of La Mesa, were extremely close and shared a bond over their love of animals. Both the mother and daughter worked as veterinarians, Diane at San Diego’s VCA Angel Animal Hospital and Katy at Banfield Pet Hospital in Chula Vista.
Mark Sauer, a family friend of 35 years, said Diane was well-known and very much respected in the local veterinary community.
“Diane was so proud of her daughter being a veterinarian and following her footsteps,” Sauer told NBC 7 on Friday. “It’s just a stunning loss for us and everybody in the San Diego veterinary community. It’s a shock to us.”
On Thursday, around 10:10 a.m., Diane and Katy were driving together on southbound SR-125 near San Miguel Ranch Road in a Chevrolet Suburban.
At the same time, a 27-year-old Spring Valley man was traveling northbound on SR-125 in a GMC Yukon. For unknown reasons, the driver veered to the right and collided with the guardrail, California Highway Patrol (CHP) officials said.
After hitting the guardrail, the driver in the Yukon lost control and went across the center divider, driving the wrong way into the southbound lanes of SR-125 traffic.
The Yukon crashed head-on into the Defenbaugh’s SUV and then rolled over onto an embankment on the right shoulder of the freeway.
Officials said the women’s SUV came to rest in the middle of the freeway lanes. Both Diane and Katy suffered critical injuries and died at the site of the wreckage.
The victims were pulled from their mangled Suburban by firefighters, pieces of the car and other debris left scattered across the roadway.
"This is all so sad and unbelievable. Diane was one of the most selfless people I knew," said her brother-in-law Mark Malartsik. "The two of them were amazing. They were always about taking care of everyone else. We lost two incredible people and their memories will live on in our hearts. We really appreciate everyone's thoughts and prayers and all of the concern."
CHP officials said the driver of the Yukon, whose name had not been released as of Friday, sustained minor injuries and was taken to a hospital. A Chula Vista Fire Department (CVFD) battalion chief said the man is expected to survive.
The crash remains under investigation.
Sauer said friends, colleagues and family members are in utter disbelief over the sudden loss of Diane and Katy.
“It’s so hard to believe — you can’t even get your mind around it,” he told NBC 7.
Sauer said Katy was an only child whose father had died many years ago. This only brought Diane and Katy closer.
“Some folks have made the comment that it’s almost good they went together because it would’ve been so awful for either one to have survived. They were very, very close,” he added.
Sauer described Diane as an “outgoing” vet beloved by her colleagues and patients alike. He said she was vivacious, active and well-read.
“She was just full of life, and just so proud of her daughter and seeing her succeed as a veterinarian,” said Sauer.
He said Katy often played with his daughters when they were children. He described her as active and smart — and driven to finish veterinary school and start her career.
“She worked very hard to get to where she was and, of course, had her mom backing her,” he said.
Sauer said both Diane and Katy would’ve normally been at work on Thursday and not even driving on that freeway. They had each taken the day off to celebrate Katy’s 29th birthday together.
“They were mom and daughter, and best friends. They traveled together and really enjoyed each other’s company,” he added. “They were just inseparable.”
Dr. Shelly Ferris, the medical director at Banfield Pet Hospital, told NBC 7 Friday, "We are sad to confirm that we lost a valued member of the Banfield family this week. Not only is this a loss for Banfield and our clients, but the untimely passing of Dr. Kathryn Defenbaugh, and her mother, who was also a well respected veterinarian, signifies a loss for the entire San Diego veterinary community. Our hearts go out to Dr. Defenbaugh's family, friends and colleagues."