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Imagine waking up from your worst nightmare, and it’s all true.
Frank Snell of Englewood lost his wife Diana and 2-year-old granddaughter Jordan in a tragic traffic accident on U.S. 285 at Kings Valley on Aug. 26. He feels lucky that his son Adam and daughter Amber survived the crash, though Amber has a severe traumatic brain injury. It is uncertain what her care will look like when she is able to come home from the hospital. Adam also has a traumatic brain injury, though less severe, and he is out of the hospital but still going through therapy to overcome the impairments.
Frank, son Andrew and granddaughter Aliyah were not in the truck Diana, who was known as Dee, was driving.
Frank’s days now are spent caring for 5-year-old Aliyah, wading through medical bills, insurance claims and more, visiting daily with Amber who is still at Craig Hospital, working at his job and trying to finish home remodeling projects he started before the crash.
There are many sleepless nights as he worries about how to keep everything together especially with Dee gone. Dee was the backbone for her husband, three grown children and two granddaughters, always there, always taking care of things for the family, Frank said.
Frank marvels at everything Dee could get done while also working for an auto parts company. Dee left that job in July 2020 when Frank had a stroke and had just gone back to work when Frank had a heart attack two months before the crash.
“Things don’t get done right without her,” Frank explained.
Frank thanks the people who jumped out of their vehicles to help his family immediately after the crash, sure that because of their aid before first responders arrived, his son and daughter are still alive. He also thanks those who sat in traffic for up to five hours on U.S. 285 while first responders did their jobs.
Frank listens to a song called “Jealous of the Angels” every day because the lyrics are comforting, so much so that Aliyah has learned the words. The first stanza says:
“I didn’t know today would be our last,
Or that I’d have to say goodbye to you so fast,
I’m so numb I can’t feel anymore,
Prayin’ you’d just walk back through that door.”
A few seconds changed Frank’s family forever.
On the way home from the family’s annual camping trip to Twin Lakes, Dee’s truck, which was pulling a camper heading northbound on U.S. 285, was hit by a truck, whose driver had passed vehicles on the shoulder at a high speed, crossed a double yellow line and hit her truck head-on.
“In a period of less than 10 seconds, one person’s choice has dramatically changed my entire family’s lives,” Frank said.
Frank knew Dee Davis was The One before their first date. They met while cruising Colfax Avenue in December 1984 when he was 19 and she was 18, and he said the conversation between them was easy and natural. They married in May 1985, and Amber was born in May 1986, followed by Adam in 1990 and Andrew in 1991.
The family lived in Wheat Ridge for eight years before moving to Englewood, where Dee had grown up and graduated from Englewood High School in 1984. They have always been a tight-knit family with Amber and her daughters, Aliyah and Jordan, called JoJo by her family, living with Frank and Dee.
Every year, the entire family went camping at Twin Lakes to fish, enjoy being outdoors and unwind.
“That was her place,” he said of Dee.
Dee also loved wolves and gardening, and Frank plans to have a bench made to be placed near the garden at their home as a tribute to her.
Frank tries to keep Aliyah on a schedule as she attends kindergarten and after-school care, but she won’t sleep in the bedroom she shared with little sister JoJo. Aliyah believes a star in the western night sky is her grandma and JoJo watching over them.
JoJo, being the younger sister, learned quickly that she could get what she wanted, though she was fiercely protective of Aliyah.
“She was an amazing little girl,” Frank said of JoJo. “She had the biggest heart. … I will never see her grow up.”
Amber had a diffuse axonal injury, which means the two sides of her brain don’t communicate with each other. She still can’t walk, though she is slowly gaining back movement. Her short-term memory is impaired, and at this point, she doesn’t know she lost her youngest daughter and her mother.
“Why add to her pain now?” Frank asked. “I’ll tell her when she can process what has happened. Amber will never be the same. She will always have limitations. As bad as this affects me, I can’t imagine what it must be like for Amber.”
Frank spends his days trying to move forward but said it’s like one step forward and two steps back. He says he’s worried he will lose the house now that his household is down to one income.
He is doing his best with Aliyah, though he adds, “As things go along, I know I’m screwing up. I keep waiting for Dee to come through the door to fix it.”
He takes comfort in the emotional support from friends, extended family and the community.
Frank says two months ago he sent an email to Gov. Jared Polis, wanting to discuss the criminal justice system as it pertains to repeat-offending drivers on the roadways like the man who caused the crash that killed Dee and JoJo, a system he calls screwed up. That man had alcohol/drug arrests and DUI convictions, and he was arrested three weeks prior to the crash for vehicular eluding, reckless driving and more. So far, Frank has not gotten a response from Polis’ office.
Each day is filled with going through the motions because there’s so much to do, and he works hard not to think about the “what ifs:” What if he had been driving immediately in front of Dee rather than heading home first? What if they hadn’t stopped for lunch or if they had stayed longer? That list is long, but that kind of thinking doesn’t help the here and now, he explained.
“I know what happened,” he said, “but I don’t think it’s sunk in yet. This is going to be hard. I know that. It’s so much harder without Dee.”
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