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ASHLAND STREET MEMORIAL

'Grateful to be alive'

Still recovering, Christine Diaz-Kuehu doesn't remember the car accident that took the life of her boyfriend and spurred a memorial at the crash site
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Christine Diaz-Kuehu and Sal Pippa pose in this photograph taken sometime before the crash. Photo courtesy of Diaz-Kuehusubmitted photo
 Posted: 2:00 AM April 30, 2014

The last thing Christine Diaz-Kuehu remembers on April 9 is leaving a dinner date with her boyfriend and heading south through Ashland.

Her next memory is waking up in the intensive care unit at Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center in Medford, her eyes swollen shut.

Diaz-Kuehu, 36, was the passenger in a 2000 Mercedes SUV driven by Salvatore "Sal" Pippa III, when the couple's vehicle sped through a left-hand turn on Ashland Street, hit a power pole and smashed into the building that houses Papa Murphy's, Liberty Tax and other businesses.

Pippa died at the scene and Diaz-Kuehu was rushed to the hospital with serious injuries.

"I'm very, very, very grateful to be alive," said Diaz-Kuehu, who broke her neck and pelvis, sprained her ankle and was cut by shards of glass. "I don't remember anything about the accident."

High speed was believed to be a factor in the crash, which is still under investigation by the Ashland police. Police say Pippa was going much too fast to negotiate the turn, though they won't be able to determine his actual speed.

"We're never going to know, except that they were going way too fast," said Ashland police Chief Terry Holderness.

Holderness said that because the crash happened at night — at about 10:30 p.m. — and because Pippa was driving significantly in excess of a safe speed, a standard toxicology report for drugs and alcohol is being performed. Those results usually take a month to get back, Holderness said.

Diaz-Kuehu said that police, nurses and doctors were amazed that she survived.

"I believe there was an angel wrapped around me," said Diaz-Kuehu. "They don't know how I made it out of there."

She remained in the ICU for three days and was in the hospital for nine more before her insurance cut out and doctors sent her home. Diaz-Kuehu said she isn't sure whether she should have been in the hospital longer, but she is happy to be home at her father's house in Medford while she recovers.

"I'm so grateful to be home," said Diaz-Kuehu. "It's so much easier to heal in a place of comfort."

Diaz-Kuehu is seeking donations to help with her medical bills, which already total $65,000.

A makeshift memorial has formed at the site of the couple's crash, with cards, candles and flowers adorning the smashed area of the concrete building.

One of the building's owners, Jim Batzer, said he has had an engineer assess the structure and estimate repairs, but Batzer plans to leave the memorial up for at least a few more weeks.

"We want to honor the memorial, so we're giving it some time," said Batzer. "It needs to get fixed at some point, but I'm not going to authorize any movement until the community has grieved."

Diaz-Kuehu said she is holding onto her memories of Pippa, including a sentimental voice mail he had left her earlier on the day of the crash.

He had called Diaz-Kuehu while she was at work as manager of Ashland's Growing Green Baby and sang and played guitar on her voice mail — singing the couple's song, "Pale Moonlight," by Bob Marley.

She said she hasn't listened to the message since. She's trying to stay emotionally strong for her three children, age 16, 8 and 7.

"This is a very intense thing to go through," she said. "I'm trying to stay strong for my family."

Diaz-Kuehu's mother, Stella Cruz, said that after the crash she was drawn to Garrison's Home Furnishings in Medford to look at beds that might ease her daughter's recovery.

A manager offered to donate a Tempur-Pedic bed to Diaz-Kuehu, and when Cruz questioned the gesture, the manager said he knew of the crash and that his wife was the 911 dispatcher who took the first call from the scene.

"It's so nice to see the community be so great," Diaz-Kuehu said.

With Pippa for a year-and-a-half, Diaz-Kuehu said she is deeply grieving his loss.

"He was a beautiful man," she said. "He was at a point in his life where he was going through a lot of change, and a lot of growth."

It is difficult to talk about Pippa, she said.

"It's hard. But I do want to say that he was very spontaneous, and when it was just the two of us, there was a wonderful feeling of peace," she said.

Diaz-Kuehu is hoping for a quick recovery so that she can return to her home in Ashland and resume work and taking care of her children, who are staying with friends and family.

She is starting to move around her father's house with a walker while wearing a brace for her broken neck.

Cruz has set up an account at Diaz-Kuehu's bank, Rogue Federal Credit Union, which is accepting donations to help with the cost of recovery.

"It is estimated she will be in a neck brace for up to four months," said Cruz. "She will need physical therapy and a lot of help from her family."

Local jewelry company Origami Owl is also having a fundraiser dedicated to Diaz-Kuehu, donating 50 percent of profits to her family. The fundraiser is listed under "Christine Kuehu Fundraiser" on Facebook.

Teresa Ristow is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email her at teresa.ristow@gmail.com.



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