Community rallies to support Summit High School senior, who is in a coma following a car crash
BRECKENRIDGE — To Beto Santiago, living in the mountains of Summit County above 9,000 feet is like living in the sky.
“It’s like living with God,” he said.
The native of Mexico has lived in Summit County for more than two decades and loves each friendly individual who comprises the community. That word, that idea — community — has never been on fuller display for Beto than now.
His eldest son, Cristian Santiago Lopez, 17, was severely injured in a car crash Oct. 18 on Interstate 70 near Idaho Springs. Three of his friends were injured in the crash, as well, but Cristian, who was not wearing a seat belt, sustained the most serious injuries.
Since the crash, Cristian has undergone procedure after procedure in the intensive care unit at Children’s Hospital of Colorado in Aurora.
On Thursday evening at his home in Breckenridge, Beto had just returned from Cristian’s latest surgery. Doctors have made it clear to Beto and Cristian’s mother, Rocelia, that Cristian’s condition is critical as he remains in a coma. And despite the uncertainty about what kind of life Cristian might be able to live, his family has been humbled by the support Summit County has shown. That’s evidenced by the $31,000 that has been raised via GoFundMe for the Cristian Santiago Lopez Family Fund — more than one-third of the fundraiser’s initial goal to help the family with medical expenses.
“Now, I have Facebook,” Beto said Thursday. “And now I said, ‘You are my family. I share whatever is going to happen with you.’ I know everyone is supporting. This situation is really hard. The locals I know are praying. They say, ‘Beto, we love you. It’s going to be OK. Your son is going to come out. We pray for him.’ I’m with them. I hope I can some way, some day — I cannot pay back — but return the favor.”
The family — Beto, Rocelia and Cristian’s uncle Donaciano — has been humbled by the outpouring of support. But they know it’s for an impressive, responsible and ambitious young man.
The Summit School District community was especially heartbroken by the news of the crash, which involved multiple young residents.
District Pre-Collegiate Coordinator Molly Griffith said Cristian hopes to study civil engineering or architecture in college. His teachers and friends describe him as a hard-working, passionate, self-motivated, adventurous and a kind soul. Griffith’s experiences with Cristian mirrored those sentiments.
“He is humble, reliable, dedicated, and he has such a bright future,” Griffith said.
Donaciano described Cristian as the kind of kid who “never gets in trouble with school.” And Beto and Donaciano know full well the positive influence Cristian “the dreamer” has been on his younger brother Anthony, a 15-year-old at Summit High School.
Anthony has seen it for himself through the tough times of the pandemic. Despite the difficulty of remote learning, Cristian not only remained dedicated to his classes, but also saved up enough money with his job at Target in Silverthorne for his dream car: a Volkswagen Golf GTI.
Cristian also helped Anthony pass algebra last year, and whenever his mother needs help translating something from English into Spanish, Cristian is there.
To Anthony, Cristian is a role model for not giving up, a role model for time management and a great role model for having faith.
Although doctors have told the family many questions remain about Cristian’s future, Anthony remains hopeful and thankful for the community support.
“It means a lot because my brother was a really good person,” Anthony said. “Seeing the community he grew up in helping out means a lot to me and my family, so my parents don’t have to worry about working for a while until he gets better.”
For Anthony, the best case scenario would be for his brother to return to living a normal life, to do things like ski and play basketball and soccer. Even just being able to play the video game Call of Duty again with Cristian, like Anthony did so many times, would mean the world to the younger brother. Whatever happens, in his heart Anthony will be forever grateful to his older brother that he was there at any time to take him out to eat, to teach him how to drive, to help him with anything.
Though it is a grave reality that Cristian suffered many terrible injuries, the family is still positive. Recently, there have been glimmers of hope with Cristian that has resulted in, at times, a better energy than when Anthony got the call of the accident while he and his mother were at home in Summit County.
Anthony started talking to his brother the first time he went to see Cristian in the hospital after the accident. Anthony told him, “You may not be the wealthiest, but you always try to make the best of it.” Anthony could sense that his brother could hear him. When Donaciano first visited Cristian, he could see tears coming out of Cristian’s eyes.
Cristian can’t speak, but the family knows Cristian understands that his friends, relatives and community are there for him.
“The doctor says he could stay the way he is — just, like, no talk, no nothing,” Beto said. “But, me, I have the faith in God.”
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KEYSTONE — Winter has arrived in Summit County, and with it comes skiers, snowmobilers and more from around the state and beyond hoping to take advantage of the area’s backcountry.