KAILUA-KONA — Taylor Campogan, one of two teens hospitalized on Oahu since Sunday’s tragic crash on Queen Kaahumanu Highway that claimed the life her mother, is coming home.
“I really just feel like all the support and prayers and love from everyone helped us — me and Kawena — to get through a fast and speedy recovery,” the 15-year-old said Friday from The Queen’s Medical Center.
The teen expects to be released and fly back to the Big Island today with her father, Danny Campogan, just six days after the head-on collision that killed her mother, 35-year-old Cassandra “Cassie” Lynn Ellis, and seriously injured herself, her best friend, Kawena Haserot, 15, and little sister, 10-year-old Trinity.
“Her recovery is way better than expected,” said Danny Campogan. “She’s such a strong person, such a fighter — Taylor’s amazing. She went through a lot. She truly is lucky to be alive.”
Her father attributed the feat to his daughter’s involvement in wrestling during the past couple of years, starting as a freshman at Konawaena High School before moving to Kealakehe High School her sophomore year.
“Because she was in wrestling, she was really fit and in shape, so that’s playing a big part in her recovery,” he said, noting she’s been able to climb up and down stairs. “Her recovery is way better than expected.”
The teenager arrived Sunday at the Honolulu hospital in critical condition. She suffered a head injury, including bleeding in the brain, as well as a puncture through one of her knees, her father said.
“The first day we were here, I was just praying and praying and praying because there was a good chance she was not going to make it. And then, when she came out of surgery, she was non-responsive,” Danny Campogan said. “I was just so worried and scared. I was just worried that she wouldn’t be the same.”
But on Thursday, a few good friends flew over to visit, and then Taylor accepted an interview alongside Kawena with Oahu news outlet KHON2.
“I could see Taylor was going to be fine,” her father said. “Her responses to the questions they were asking, just the whole selflessness of her answers, just the depth of her answers, showed me that her head injury really has nothing on her.”
“She came through just fine. And she’s going to be OK,” he continued.
Kawena, also a Kealakehe High School sophomore, also continues to heal, her mother said Friday afternoon. The 15-year-old star swimmer suffered a head injury as well as a fractured femur and pelvis.
“For what these girls have gone through, they are fighters, it’s so clear,” said Laurel Haserot. “They’re just doing so good; I’m so proud of both of them.”
Her daughter had a “rough day” Thursday, but after some “momma tough love” reminding her to eat and try her best, Kawena appeared to be doing better. She’s currently working on sitting and standing as well as self-care.
“Her spirits are brighter. You can see the light in her eyes and she’s got that fight back in her heart that she just wants to go home so badly,” Laurel Haserot said. “She’s going to do whatever it takes to get there.”
Also recuperating is Trinity, who suffered a shoulder injury and is still in a sling.
“She’s in good spirits. She has her other sister, 13-year-old Lana,” Danny Campogan said. “The two of them have always been inseparable, they kind of cling to each other.”
The two-car crash was reported at 2:10 p.m. Sunday near mile marker 90 on Queen Kaahumanu Highway. According to police, Ellis was operating a northbound 2015 Honda Pilot SUV when the vehicle collided head-on with a southbound black 2017 Jeep Renegade SUV.
Police say the Jeep, driven by 25-year-old Nicholas Abarcar of Waimea, was passing another southbound vehicle when he struck Ellis’ SUV. Police said in a press release earlier in the week that speed and drugs might have played a role in the crash.
Ellis was taking Trinity, Taylor and Kawena for some fun in the sun at Kua Bay. Trinity was in the front passenger seat next to her mom, whom Taylor was sitting behind along with Kawena. Each was wearing a seat belt.
“The last thing I remember from that day was just jamming to some music and having some fun with my mom, and with Trinity and Kawena, right after we left Pine Tree Cafe,” Taylor said. “We had just left and were jamming out to some music.”
She awoke at the hospital on Oahu to learn what happened, including that her mother died and her best friend and little sister were injured.
“My mom to me was everything. She took care of me and my sisters. She set up a lot of opportunities for us,” Taylor said. “She was my person to talk to, even though sometimes it wasn’t the easiest to talk to her. She was like my best friend. And my mother, like, all in one.”
She finds it “ironic” that her mother’s life was taken by someone who was allegedly under the influence at the time of the crash.
“My mom passed away due to one of the main things she feels so strongly about,” Taylor said. “She’s always trying to advocate about how drugs can ruin a family’s lives, it can ruin people’s lives.”
That included creating, along with her current partner John Lim Jr. and father of her youngest daughter, Lucy, 2, the Keiki Come First fishing tournament, emphasizing the importance of family and children in the face of drug addiction.
“I think it’s definitely something that I’ll continue for her just because of the way that it’s impacted my life,” Taylor said. “I know that she would want me to keep it going.”
On Friday, the teen wanted to remind people about the far-reaching impact that driving under the influence can have, “because it only takes one wrong turn to ruin your own life as well as somebody’s else.”
“Before you get behind that wheel, look into yourself and ask yourself is it really worth it? Is this really what you want?” she asked. “Are you going to be able to handle knowing that you are putting other people’s lives in danger and be OK with that?”
Abarcar was also injured in the crash and treated at Kona Community Hospital, according to police. He was later arrested on suspicion of first-degree negligent homicide, DUI, reckless driving and three counts first-degree negligent injury.
After conferring with prosecutors, who declined to immediately press charges, Abarcar was released without charges pending further investigation. From 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. on Monday, a temporary road closure will be in effect for Queen Kaahumanu Highway between Kekaha Kai State Park and West Hawaii Veterans Cemetery so police can conduct additional investigation into the fatal crash.
Police ask anyone who witnessed the crash to call Officer Kelsey Kobayashi at 326-4646, ext. 229, or 339-5651. They can also call Crime Stoppers at 961-8300.
Meanwhile Friday, GoFundMe accounts continued to raise funds for the girls, as well as for medical and funeral expenses for Ellis. By 5 p.m., more than $41,000 had been raised between the three crowdsourcing campaigns.
Email Chelsea Jensen at firstname.lastname@example.org.