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FAMILY   -   FAMILY FEATURES
Healing with the Help of Angels
February, 2005 - Issue #5
Alice and Tom Renolds kneel beside the crosses Tom made by hand; each symbolizes one of the lives lost on February 17, 2000.
Alice and Tom Renolds kneel beside the crosses Tom made by hand; each symbolizes one of the lives lost on February 17, 2000.
We've read the headlines and seen the memorials: "Crash Kills Two Saugus Football Players." "Bouquet Canyon Head-On Kills Three Young People." "Teen Killed After Christmas Celebration."

Adults shake their heads - teenagers and cars, a potentially deadly combination. When these deaths hit the front page, our hearts go out to the parents. We wonder how they are ever going to survive the death of a child.

Never, though, has the community been so heartbroken than in February 2000 when four people were killed on Soledad Canyon Road. Three of the dead were teenagers, students at Canyon High School. Of those three, two were brothers, Tim and Danny Renolds. Tim was 18-years-old and ready to graduate in June. His little brother Danny was 15.

Tom and Alice Renolds have lived through a nightmare that no parent should ever have to endure. High school sweethearts, Tom and Alice moved to the Santa Clarita Valley in the late 1980s to raise their boys - Scott, Tim and Danny, only to have that dream shattered on a cold February night.

Alice, a stay-at-home mom, was active in the PTA and works part-time at Mitchell Elementary School. Tom works for the Department of Water and Power.

February 17 was an average school night. Tim was outside working on his car when Marcus Lellan, a fellow student from Canyon High, also 18, came by. Fifteen-year-old Danny had been trying to convince his parents to let him go to the movies. When Tom said no, not a school night, Danny stormed out the door. Some time later, Tim and Marcus left in Marcus's car.

About 8:30 that night, there was frantic banging at the Renolds' door. Several teens were screaming about a car crash. They said Tim was dead. Not quite comprehending what the teens were saying, Tom and Alice raced out the door. They told Scott to look for Danny.

The traffic on Soledad was at a standstill. Bracing against the cold winter air, Alice jumped out the passenger door and began running to the crash site that was less than a mile from her home.

"I Usually have Time to Think"

Deputy Mike Shapiro from the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station was the traffic officer at the scene. He knew three boys were dead. Marcus, the driver, and Daniel Weber, a passenger in the front seat, managed to extract themselves from of the wreckage with minor injuries. Another vehicle, driven by 45-year-old Rodney Adams, was crushed beneath Marcus's Acura. Adams did not survive.

As news and sheriff helicopters flew overhead, Alice approached Shapiro and was told she was not allowed near the car. An ambulance had taken two boys away, she was told. Alice screamed; she needed to know if she was to follow it or not. Shapiro asked her to describe her son's clothes.

"It was chaos. A lot of yelling and screaming and a lot of kids on the scene," Shapiro recalls. "Someone told me a parent was there. How would I tell her about her son? I usually have time to think about what I'm going to say. I wouldn't want any parent to see this."

It was about to get worse.

Alice's older son Scott soon arrived and told his mother that Danny had paged Tim, asking him for a ride. Quietly, Alice described her youngest son's clothing to the deputy and when she was told that yes, Danny was in the car and had not survived, she collapsed.

Coffins, Clothes, Candles and Angels

The days that followed the crash are still a blur for Alice. She remembers selecting coffins and clothes to bury her sons. She remembers Tim's pager vibrating... friends frantically trying to contact him. And she remembers angels, statues left among the cards and notes dropped off at her door step and at the crash site. Angels, she said, take on a special meaning when you've lost a child.

The funeral at Grace Baptist Church in Saugus for Tim and Danny Renolds was attended by thousands of friends, family and community members. Dominick Ianozzi, 16, also in the backseat with the Renolds' boys, was buried, as was Rodney Adams.

Marcus Lellan pleaded guilty to four counts of vehicular manslaughter and was given an eight-year sentence, saving the Renolds from enduring the agony of a trial. His passenger, 18-year-old Daniel Weber, has only visited the Renolds once since the crash. Alice hopes to be able to reconnect with him one day and ask him questions about that night.

Tom and Alice held a candlelight memorial the following year to honor the four people killed. Once again, the community attended in force. Beginning at the Von's parking lot on Soledad, more than 500 people bundled up against the cold evening air, lit candles and followed the Renolds. The City of Santa Clarita closed roads and freeway on-ramps as the procession moved north on Soledad reaching the site of the fatal crash at the approximate time it occurred the year before. There, on the side of the road above the freeway, four white crosses are planted. Handmade by Tom, each is inscribed individually with the names Timmy, Danny, Nikki and Rodney.

City Councilman Frank Ferry spoke at the memorial walk. As a teacher in the high school district, Ferry was present the night of the crash, helping to identify the victims and console the witnesses. At the candlelight memorial, he didn't pull any punches. Ferry told the students it was their responsibility to take control of their lives and it was time to stop making bad choices. He was angry.

"I don't want to attend any more of these memorials," Ferry said to the students. "I don't want to spend any more time with your grieving parents. You need to make good choices."

Life Goes On with the Help of Some Angels

In the five years since Alice and Tom buried their sons, they have been active in the community, speaking out on the consequences of reckless driving at the high schools and other organized events. They are members of the Blue Ribbon Task Force Committee and Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Citizens Traffic Safety Committee. The committee recently enacted a toll-free hotline for citizens to call when they see teenagers driving recklessly. Alice is also a co-leader for Compassionate Friends, a support group for parents who have lost a child.

Every year Tom and Alice organize the candlelight walk to remember Tim, Danny, Nikki and Rodney. Hundreds still attend. This year, however, may be the last, Alice said.

A permanent memorial is being built in Central Park, listing the names of all Santa Clarita young people killed in traffic-related incidents. The City of Santa Clarita hopes this memorial will replace individual memorials found on roadsides throughout the community. Alice hopes it will give some solace to parents who have suffered the loss of their child.

"I hope [the memorial] is used by friends of those who have died in crashes," Alice said. "It would give them a place to gather for quiet reflection and can also be used to raise awareness to the younger children and hopefully prevent future deaths."

Last year, Marcus Lellan completed four years of his eight-year sentence. Tom attended his deportation hearing (as a Danish citizen, Marcus is automatically deported because of his felony conviction). Alice stayed home because she said seeing Marcus would be too emotional for her.

Tom was allowed to speak at the hearing as a victim's family member. He had not seen Marcus in four years. As he looked at the now 22-year-old man, it is not a hard stretch to imagine him thinking of what his own sons might be like had they lived.

Tom told the judge his family had been devastated by the deaths of Tim and Danny. He later said he didn't know if he could ever forgive Marcus, but that door is still open. Tom and Alice believe Marcus will be able to make a new life for himself in Denmark.

"I know Marcus did not go out purposely to kill someone," Tom said. "He was only 18, but he still made the choice to drive fast and reckless and he killed four people."

That summer Tom boxed up the items in Tim's and Danny's rooms which had gone virtually untouched for five years. Those boxes are waiting for Alice when she is able to decide how to part with her children's possessions.

"I can't give that stuff away yet," Alice said. "Every time I open a box and look at their clothes, I can't handle it. Not yet."

Tom converted Danny's room into an office for Alice. There she hangs the various plaques and certificates she has received over the years. There is also room for plenty of her angels.

Scott is now married and his wife, Jennifer, recently gave birth to a healthy baby girl - Alexis Danielle. There was a tense moment in the delivery room, however, when the baby's heart went into distress and Jennifer underwent an emergency C-section. Apparently, the umbilical cord was tied in a knot. The nurses told Scott his daughter was a miracle baby; the problem could have killed her.

"She must have an angel looking out for her," the nurse said.

"She has two," Scott replied.

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The Renolds family will hold their annual Candlelight Walk on Thursday, February 17. Those interested in attending the walk are encouraged to gather at the Von's parking lot on the corner of Soledad and Sand Canyon Roads at 7:30 p.m. Tom, Alice and Scott will lead the procession at approximately 8 p.m. from the parking lot to the site of the crash where there are four crosses bearing the names Timmy, Danny, Nikki and Rodney. Dress warmly. Candles will be provided.
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