Thomas family hosts memorial ceremony for son who died in vehicle collision in late August
Signal Staff Writer
Under the veil of darkness and a bit of starlight twinkling overhead, just a day after Thanksgiving, a group of about 20 people gathered just outside Rosewood Equestrian Friday night to mourn the loss of 28-year-old Spencer Gerry Thomas.
Thomas was one of four men who died in a two-vehicle collision in late August. His family hosted a memorial service to celebrate his life and to raise awareness about the dangers of speeding on the road.
“A lot of people, they just fly by and if you’ve ever driven down here, it’s people passing other people,” said Gabriela Thomas, mother of Spencer.
According to Gabriela and her husband Gerry, workers at Rosewood Equestrian told them they’ve witnessed several vehicle collisions on San Francisquito Canyon Road, but Spencer’s collision was “by far the worst one.”
“My son, it was 4 o’clock in the afternoon on a Sunday when it happened to him. It was broad daylight,” Gabriela said.
Gabriela said the day of the crash her friend of 27 years, Kelly Sinclair, saw news coverage of the collision on TV. Sinclair told Gabriela to watch it, and when she did, she was “sick.”
“We drove down here and I thought to myself, ‘I’m sorry, but you know, this can’t be us,’” Gabriela said. “You just never think that way, and so as I approach and I see that blue Suburban, it’s like your gut just falls out.”
In between fighting back tears and stumbling on a few words, Gabriela expressed her gratitude for California Highway Patrol officers, Los Angeles County Fire Department personnel, Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station deputies and everyone else who responded that day.
“I’m just so relieved to know that my son was extracted by the caring hands of noble, good human beings,” she added.
The Thomas family set up a large cross with the words “Spencer Gerry Thomas” going across and “Cross Roads” going straight down, entwined with lights.
Just in front of Thomas’ shrine were three more for the other men who died as a result of the collision — Wilbert Montenegro, 40, Shane Rivera, 41, both of Valencia, and Eugene Segura, 41, who died in a hospital from blunt trauma a day after the vehicle collision.
Ashlynn Vonderau, Spencer’s girlfriend, was the sole survivor of the incident. Vonderau had documented and shared her journey as she recovered on Facebook.
“Spencer and I were having a nice, normal Sunday afternoon drive in our beloved Suburban when the unthinkable happened,” Vonderau wrote on Facebook in a post on Sept. 11. “One moment I was glancing over at Spencer’s smiling face, when I looked forward and saw a white BMW speeding around a corner.”
“Before anyone could blink, I watched the front right tire hit the dirt, the driver over-correct and slide right in front of us. As I gasped, realizing the impending crash, Spencer’s last act on this Earth was to jerk the wheel to the right, taking the full impact himself,” her post continued.
Vonderau sustained injuries to her legs, a fractured wrist, two amputated toes, third-degree burns on her right side and a fractured skull. Months later, Vonderau is out of the hospital and recently has been able to walk on her own.
At the memorial ceremony, Vonderau was surrounded by her family, friends and loved ones.
“She’s a phenomenon. All the doctors didn’t believe she would walk again,” said Lauren Sinclair, Vonderau’s aunt. “She has just shown us and inspired us to be better and to be there for her.”
According to Sinclair, Vonderau’s community of friends and family rallied behind her. Just recently, her coworkers built her a ramp to help her access her home more easily.
At one point of the ceremony, Gabriela addressed attendees who held blue lights, which represented the family’s sorrow, and thanked Rosario Bajo and his son Jesus for pulling Vonderau out of the wreckage that day.
“I wanted to take a minute to introduce everybody to Rosario and his wife Susana. They work here on the ranch,” Gabriela said. “He was telling us about how he came to hear about the accident. It was such a loud and horrible thing, but he and his son ran out here…helped her out of the Suburban.”
Gabriela said she was so grateful for their actions and for their ability to confront the situation. There were three people, including Rosario and his son Jesus, who pulled Ashlynn out of the wreckage.
“My parents live here, and I was visiting them,” said Jesus Bajo, Rosario’s son. “We just heard a loud, big crash and my cousin and I run out there.”
“There was a lot of people running around helping… it was catching fire, the truck. We went over there, and it all happened so fast. I didn’t think anything about it, we just jumped in there and got her out.”
Jesus said he hopes something changes, so that no more senseless and tragic vehicle collisions happen anymore. He thinks people just drive quickly trying to get to point A to point B, when they shouldn’t.
It’s been two months since Spencer died, Gabriela and her family are devastated, and she asked how it’s possible to move on from such pain and sorrow. She wondered ways to honor Spencer’s legacy and worried whether her son’s memory would disappear as time passed by.
Gabriela said she’s going to advocate for change to make San Francisquito Canyon Road safer — as a way to honor her son.
Spencer was loved by his family and friends, and by a community that shared his passion for off-roading. When people heard of Spencer’s death, people from far and wide sent their love to the Thomas family, according to Gabriela. Spencer’s memory lives on in the lives of those who knew him, and those who will come to learn his story.
“He had a future ahead of him, a future with his girlfriend, and that was taken away from him,” Gabriela said. “Well, something has to change because this was absolutely devastating.”