Posted on Mon, Jun. 28,
Family set to bring crash victim back
to San Jose.
Four weeks after a horrific accident in
Utah put newlywed Tara Eichinger Berendes
into a coma, her family is preparing to
bring her home to San Jose, where longtime
friends hope to expand the circle of support
around her and her new husband.
In recent days, Berendes has opened her
eyes, is smiling ever so slightly and
occasionally gives a faint squeeze to
husband Josh's hand.
The movements are hopeful signs that the
20-year-old woman, married 10 days before
the accident, is waking from her long
slumber. She is still clinically comatose,
say doctors in Salt Lake City where she has
been hospitalized since the June 1 car
crash. But her physical condition was
recently upgraded from critical to stable,
giving her family and friends the best news
they've heard in days.
``The doctors say she is doing all those
things involuntarily, that there is no
definite indication of cognitive activity,''
said her father, John Eichinger, of Monte
Sereno. ``But we, her family, want to
believe it really is her smiling and
squeezing our hand. It might be wishful
thinking, but it's something to hold on
Since the accident, a far-reaching circle
of supporters from Utah and Colorado to
California have embraced the newlyweds, who
met at Los Gatos' Calvary Baptist Church.
The widow of the Salt Lake City man who
was killed when his car slammed into the
Berendeses' sport-utility vehicle invited
Eichinger to her home to share dinner with
her 3-year-old and 6-month-old daughters,
now without a father.
Susan Goodman, whose husband, Thad, died
at the crash on Interstate 15 near Salt Lake
City, initiated special prayers for Tara
Berendes at her Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter-day Saints. She also has asked anyone
wishing to donate money to her and the girls
to instead give to Tara Berendes' recovery
Colorado supporters, most of whom hardly
know the couple, will hold a golf tournament
next month in Parker, Colo., to raise funds.
The Berendeses were heading to Colorado to
start a new life when the crash occurred.
Eichinger's search for a San Jose-area
transitional facility for his daughter also
led to a remarkable stroke of coincidence.
While meeting with officials at Santa Clara
Valley Medical Center, which will coordinate
her care, he learned that she had played
basketball with the daughter of hospital
director Susan G. Murphy and her husband,
Jim Murphy, who is the facility's director
of managed care. Jim Murphy, in fact, had
coached the girls' basketball team.
``Tara was a tough competitor on the
basketball court. She's got a fighting
spirit, and we'll be here to cheer her on
now,'' Jim Murphy said.
So will the young couple's many friends
from Calvary Baptist Church and the Los
``It will be great to have her here so we
can visit her and give them both support,''
said Tara Berendes' good friend Jill Yoder.
``But it will be hard to see her because of
her condition. A lot of her friends from
church made her a video and sent it to the
hospital. We talked about the fun times we
all had together.''
After marrying May 22 in Monte Sereno,
the newlyweds packed their gifts and on May
30 headed for Littleton, Colo., he to be a
youth pastor, she to study psychology.
On the afternoon of June 1 as Tara
Berendes drove the couple's small SUV near
Salt Lake City, Thad Goodman's car,
traveling in the opposite direction, lost
control and shot across the median, hitting
them head-on. The cause of the accident
remains under investigation.
Josh Berendes was able to work himself
free after suffering moderate injuries, but
his wife was pinned in her seat as the car
burst into flames. She not only suffered
brain damage and some internal injuries, but
the blond who once modeled also has facial
On Friday, doctors performed
skin-grafting surgery on her face. Possibly
by week's end, when she heals from that, she
could be discharged from University Hospital
in Salt Lake City to a San Jose sub-acute
She remains on a respirator and is being
fed by a tube. No one knows the long-term
effects of her brain injury, her father
Tall at 6-foot-3, and slender and bubbly,
Tara Berendes was a standout basketball
player in high school, had a gifted singing
voice and played the French horn. But she
took her church work seriously. She helped
counsel junior high students with problems.
``She was kind of like a mommy, arms
always open,'' said Yoder, who met Tara at
Calvary. ``You always felt comfortable
telling her anything.''
Josh Berendes is more reserved, but liked
that his wife was spontaneous and outgoing.
Since the accident, he rarely leaves her
bedside at University Hospital, constantly
searching her face for a new gesture or
touching her arm in hopes of getting a
Josh Berendes, 23, who grew up in San
Jose, was going to be a youth pastor in
Highlands Ranch, Colo., and would also work
at Home Depot there. His wife was to pursue
a master's in psychology. Now, they will
turn their focus back to San Jose.
``Tara is such a strong, determined
person,'' said her older sister, Heather
Eichinger of Campbell. ``When she sets her
mind to something, she dedicates herself
completely. Once she realizes she needs to
get better, she's going to do it as quickly
HOW TO HELP
For more information, go to www.tarajosh.com
for ways to help and donate.
Josh and Tara
Berendes have no health insurance and
face a mountain of medical bills. Anyone
who interested in helping out is asked
to send checks payable to:
Eichinger-Berendes Recovery Fund
Wells Fargo Bank
299 South Main Street
Salt Lake City, UT 84111.
News Staff Writer Chuck Carroll
contributed to this report. Contact Connie
Skipitares at firstname.lastname@example.org
or (408) 920-5647.