Rescued baby grows up, finds her saviors

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Rescued baby grows up, finds her saviorsIn 1993, two good samaritans helped save the life of a baby trapped in a burning car. A scrap of the News Review, telling the first part of the story, was one of the only possessions she had tying her to the accident that claimed her mother’s life, and the people who saved hers.

Last Friday Sheree Gomez contacted the News Review to ask how she could read Page 30 of the June 30, 1993, edition.

Without much further thought, this reporter took a picture from our archives and e-mailed it to Sheree. What followed was an incredible search and discovery of Sheree’s rescuers, and continuation of her story for our newspaper.

Former News Review reporter Susan Dascher recorded the story of Rick and Diane Jones, who were driving along Highway 14 on June 5, 1993, when they witnessed a head-on collision.

Rick pulled over and ran to the wreckage, where the vehicles were already on fire. He first attempted to free the woman driving the vehicle of the least compromised vehicle.

After those attempts failed, he turned his attention to the crying baby — an 18-month-old Sheree — hanging upside down from a carseat in the backseat.

Rick smashed the window using a hammer he had retrieved from his own vehicle, but was unable to release the baby from her straps. Diane — who had stayed in her car with her five-month-old — grabbed her husband’s knife from their glove compartment so that he could saw through the straps.

All the while, the flames continued to engulf the vehicle.

Rick handed a limp baby Sheree over to Diane, and the couple ran from the vehicle before a final explosion swallowed up the car in flames.

Although other bystanders had gathered by then, first responders still had not made it to the scene (Diane recalled that in these days most people did not have cellular communication).

Diane cradled Sheree — covered in cuts and bruises, eyes swollen shut, struggling for breath — as her husband sped toward civilization. After driving for what had seemed to be forever, they found a gas station. The couple ran inside, Diane still holding Sheree, and screamed for someone to call 9-1-1.

The Joneses stayed with Sheree until help arrived. The baby was later airlifted to the Antelope Valley Medical Center.

The couple was in Ridgecrest during that time only because they were scouting out schools, houses and neighborhoods in anticipation of moving here. But Rick and Diane could not get baby Sheree off their minds.

With the help of Rick’s co-workers at Savage Industries in Wilmington, he sent flowers, a stuffed bear and some money.

But with so many unanswered questions, the Joneses finally decided to visit AVMC.

Attending to baby Sheree was her paternal grandmother, Georgia Sanders, who showered the Joneses with hugs and kisses when she met them.

Rick and Diane Jones stayed in Ridgecrest for a while before moving on to Oklahoma, where they now make their home to be near Diane’s family.

Baby Sheree’s life continued, though the rest of her story remained a mystery to the Jones family and those who heard the first installment of their story in 1993.

“I ended up being a bit of a wild child,” Sheree, now Gomez, recalled in her Tuesday interview with the News Review.

She continued to live with Georgia until she was 12, when she moved in with her father and stepmother in Washington. When she was 15, she left home to live on her own.

“To be honest, the hustle is real,” she recalled. “I got by thugging it out on the street. I did some couch surfing. I got wrapped up in some things I’m not proud of. I did what I had to do to make ends meet.”

Sheree suffered hearing loss as a result of the accident. Though she would not be diagnosed until later, she was also trying to cope independently with severe post-traumatic stress disorder.

In 2012 Sheree Gomez gave birth to her first child — an event that she would look upon as a turning point in her life. “Even though there were a rough couple of years, I got off the streets and I strived to be the best mother I could for my child.”

She still had a few difficult years, she recalled, including a “bad marriage” that led to the birth of her second child in 2014. She struggled to support her children, and even spent some time between homes before her life settled down.

Part of the stability in her life she attributed to her fiancee Logan LaPage, who has been a wonderful father to all three of her children. “I am no longer homeless, and I have a fabulous man that I’m engaged to.”

Being a mother, and keeping her children together, has been her priority since she first gave birth. “I know I’ve had a rough life, but I would say I’m blessed. I had my struggles, but I never got strung out on drugs — I never even used drugs — but I have my family, and we are together.”

Finding her family was an obsession in her youth. “It wasn’t very long after the accident that I was separated from my older sister.”

She finally found that sister when she was 16. “Surprisingly enough, she’s in Washington, too!”

Sheree also has another member of her family — 10-year-old goddaughter Aaomoni, who also lost her mother in a car accident when she was 16 months old.

But there was still one more “missing piece” in her life.

Sheree also tried, over the years, to find the couple from the faded newspaper clipping she had kept all those years. Recently she discovered the News Review on Facebook, which prompted her to send last weekend’s request.

When we sent her the photo, she responded, “You have no idea what this means to me.”

She then went to work to share the second half of the newspaper article with various Ridgecrest groups. “‘Rick and Diane Jones’ are such common names. When you sent me the other piece I finally had a picture of them to go with it!”

Hundreds of people enthusiastically liked and shared the original post. After about 20 false leads, Sheree got a message from a person who had found a “Diane Jones” on Facebook.

“I thought, ‘Dude! That looks just like her!’”

So Gomez messaged Rick and Diane directly —and waited. After about a day of not hearing back, she searched their Friends lists until she found their children, whom she then messaged.

“I was like, ‘I know it’s weird, but are these your parents?’” said Gomez. Heather and Ashley both reached out, and confirmed that those were indeed their parents.

Sheree got a phone number, and called to talk to Rick and Diane.

“That was an amazing conversation,” she said. “I’ve heard versions of what happened all my life. But talking to someone who was really there — who could tell me first-hand what happened, not just rumors — was just an incredible experience.”

Rick relayed the details of the accident for Sheree like it had happened yesterday.

“That was just an amazing discovery on Sheree’s part — she really worked a miracle,” said Diane.

Although the emotional impact of the incident lingered with the Joneses for years, Diane admitted that she never thought that they would hear from Sheree 26 years later.

Diane said that her more Facebook-savvy daughter was the one who alerted her to Sheree’s original message.

“I opened my inbox and there she was. When I saw Sheree’s picture, I told my daughter, ‘Respond to her right away! Tell her it’s us!’”

Diane said that her memories of that day were heartbreaking — seeing the drivers and passengers who had perished, worrying that her husband could be killed during his rescue attempt. “That was a rough day for so many people.

“It was just a scary situation. After the first explosion — I’m going to call it an explosion because there was a loud boom and then a burst of fire — I kept screaming for my husband to get away from the vehicle. But he had already kicked into protector mode. He did everything right.”

Diane noted that she and Rick were both a bit shaken, reliving the trauma of that day, but she believes there’s a reason they were reconnected with Sheree.

“See her beautiful face and her beautiful family … I don’t know why God decided 26 years later to open this book back up. But like my friend told me, ‘You never know what tomorrow is going to bring, but you know this happened for a reason.’

“And it just thrills me that we are talking about it right now,” said Diane. “And people should know that Sheree — all the hard work and effort she put into this — she is just amazing.”

Sheree has invited Rick and Diana Jones to be honored guests at her wedding next year to Logan LaPage.

“Finding them has been so amazing,” said Sheree.

“I have had a level of refreshment, if you will.”

Pictured: Sheree Gomez with her fiancee, Logan LaPage, and daughters Kalani, Ka’Myra and Ka’Liyah. — Courtesy photos

Story First Published: 2019-09-06