A family motto has helped guide a Puyallup family through a traumatic accident that took the lives of the parents of two elementary school-age children.
The family of four suddenly became a family of six, and its motto “adapt and overcome” was put to a difficult test.
Derek and Emily Ramos, who both grew up in Western Washington but were currently living in Utah, were killed in a four-wheeling accident on Dec. 13 in the mountains near Bountiful. Their two children, Annabella, 11, and Marcus, 10, were in the back seat of the family’s 1983 Jeep CJ-7, but survived the accident.
Emily’s younger brother, Danny Stammen, 31, and his wife Andrea, 32, both of Puyallup, were shopping that evening when they learned about the accident.
Forty-five minutes later, they were on their way to Utah, along with Danny’s parents, Mike and Cari Stammen, both also of Puyallup. They knew that Derek and Emily had died in the crash, but were having trouble getting the conditions of the two children.
“It took forever to find out where the kids were,” Andrea said, noting that because of privacy issues the hospital would not release the information. “We did not know what to expect when we got the hospital. We had no idea what condition we would find them in. That was a lot of worry.”
However, Danny’s older sister, Casi, also of Puyallup, spent the night calling and eventually found out where Annabella and Marcus were being treated.
She stayed in Puyallup to care for Danny and Andrea’s two children, Ryan, 8, and Axel, 6.
Danny said his sister’s family was in the mountains with a local Jeep club when the family’s vehicle rolled about 500 yards down a steep hill and went over a small cliff before coming to rest. Although all four riders were secured in five-point harnesses, Emily was ejected when the windshield — made of simple plate glass — shattered and cut her harness. Derek died immediately, presumably from severe lacerations and blood loss. CPR was performed on Emily until medical help arrived six minutes later, but she too died at the scene.
Danny and Andrea said both children suffered a concussion and lacerations, but are physically recovering well.
Marcus “looked like he was in a good street fight,” Danny said.
He still gets around in a wheelchair.
Meanwhile, Annabella’s fate could have been worse. Her arm was stuck under the Jeep when it came to a rest. Rescuers had to raise the vehicle in order to free the arm.
“Head to toe, she was one gigantic bruise,” Andrea recalled last week. “But today she was practicing jumping and touching the ceiling in our living room.”
The morning after the accident family members began arriving at the local children’s hospital. Two women from Derek and Emily’s church stayed the night in the hospital with the children.
“We just threw ourselves into taking care of the kids,” Andrea said.
Derek was a staff sergeant in the U.S. Air Force stationed at nearby Hill Air Force Base, and soon representatives from the base were assisting.
“The Air Force hit everything that you could even think of,” Danny said. “They did everything for us. Every turn they were there to help.”
Andrea said an Air Force liaison officer spent days at the hospital, out in the hallway, ready and willing to do anything the family needed, from getting crackers to answering questions.
Derek and Emily did not have a will, but the extended family agreed the two children should live with Danny and Andrea.
“Everybody was in agreement that we were supposed to have the kids,” Andrea recalled. “Nobody ever said no. It’s been wonderful to have that support.”
“It was never a second thought or a first thought,” Danny said, “it was just happening.”
The family recalled that years ago Derek and Emily had mentioned that if anything happened to them, they would like Danny and Andrea to take the children. Nothing was put into writing, however.
“I don’t know how everything happened,” Andrea said, “but at the end of the day, they were ours.”
The couple has started the process to become their legal guardians.
The children were released from the hospital on Dec. 17. With plane tickets paid for by the Air Force, Andrea, Annabella and Marcus flew west to Washington. Derek’s mom, Cari, also flew home. Danny and his father, Mike, drove back the following day.
Life at the Stammen home is slowly beginning to settle. The four children attend Meeker Elementary School, Danny has returned to his job with Local 76 of Tacoma as an electrician, and Andrea coaches swimming at Puyallup High School.
“It has been mainly business,” Danny said. “I still do not know if it has sunk in yet. The other day I almost tried to call Emily to ask her something about the kids.
“I think we have been so busy with the kids and getting the kids where they are, I don’t think anything has really sunk in.”
When they returned to Puyallup, Christmas was a big distraction and it felt like a long sleepover with their nephew and niece, Danny and Andrea said. The children were surrounded by family.
“We are still on the day-to-day basis,” Andrea said.
The parents have had to change their roles.
“The first couple of weeks we weren’t acting as parents,” Danny said. “We were acting as caretakers. Now they are a little more healed and we are stepping more into the role of parents.”
“We have told the kids, ‘OK, we are your parents now, but we are not your mom and dad’,” Danny continued. “‘We are your parents. You have a mom and dad and you will see them again someday. But right now we are your parents’.”
Meanwhile, the Air Force was not finished lending support.
The liaison who assisted at the hospital in Salt Lake City sent an email to a representative with the Seattle Seahawks and explained the situation. All six members of the family — and all big Seahawks fans — were invited to attend a recent practice and were able to meet several players along with coach Pete Carroll. The family was then presented with tickets to the final game of the season and were seated in the 12th Man Suite.
“Everybody (with the Seahawks) was so nice, so awesome,” Andrea said.
The family continues to adjust. A brother lost a sister, two young children lost their parents, and two other children lost an aunt and uncle. Danny and Andrea said emotions and moods and behavior fluctuate often, but overall, with one exception, it is working.
The 1,200-square-foot house is just too small.
“We’ve just got to figure something out,” Andrea said with a laugh. “It is just too cramped.”
Otherwise, Danny said, it is working.
“We never really thought anything otherwise,” he explained. “We never thought, ‘Oh, crap, what are we going to do?’”
“We just make it work,” Andrea added. “It is something we are good at. We are not alone. We have so much support from the Air Force community, our church, the neighborhood. We are not alone in this.”