SEQUIM — You hear about these things, Christy Rookard said, and you think, “Oh my gosh.”
“We’re the ‘Oh my gosh’ people,” she said.
What started out as a celebration of 25 years of marriage in late June turned into a nightmare for Willy and Christy Rookard after Willy was severely injured while the couple was vacationing in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.
He was airlifted to a trauma center in San Diego with a collapsed lung and a severe brain injury after he was grabbed by men in a car and dragged down the road early in the morning of June 27, his wife said.
Willy remains in San Diego as he recovers from his injuries, Christy said.
“My 25th wedding anniversary, [we] spent it in an ICU instead,” she said.
To help the family cover medical, travel and accommodation expenses, an account at all First Federal community banks have been set up, as well as at online sites GoFundMe (www.gofundme.com/willyrookard) and Caring Bridge (www.caringbridge.org/visit/willyrookard).
No strangers to Cabo San Lucas, the Rookards consider the Mexico resort a favorite vacationing spot.
At about 12:15 a.m., the couple; their 19-year-old daughter, Alexis Rookard; and a family friend were in downtown Cabo on their way back to their hotel, capping their second day of hanging out with family and friends, when men in a silver car pulled up nearby.
“They weren’t teenagers — they were 30ish — and they asked, ‘Where are you guys headed?,’ ” Christy recalled. “We kind of ignored them and just kept walking.”
The car looped around the block and the men repeated the question, she said.
“We said, ‘What do you want to know for? Leave us alone,’ something like that,” Christy said. “They kind of slowly drove off.”
The third time, Willy approached the car to tell them to “bug off,” but the situation took a turn for the worse, Christy said.
“I don’t know exactly what was said; what I can say is, it really bothered Willy. He didn’t want to tell me something they said. He was really angry.”
The four walked away from the scene without a confrontation, but the Sequim group, seeking a safe ride home, agreed to walk to a nearby shopping mall to hail a cab.
“I don’t know what they wanted to do, if they wanted to rob us — I have no idea. Obviously, something,” Christy said.
“I didn’t know what their plan was, and I started to get scared,” Alexis Rookard told KIRO-TV.
For a fourth time, the foursome encountered the men in the silver car.
“I was gathering up the girls [and] I didn’t see Willy go to the car, but when I did turn around, his arms were already inside the passenger-side window,” Christy said.
“It was obvious they were holding onto them and they were moving.”
Being held by his arm, Willy kept running to match the pace of the car but then simply couldn’t run any faster, Christy said. He ran until he couldn’t, so they dragged him away, she said.
“Then they dropped him in the middle of the street and they left,” she said.
Christy and companions found Willy conscious but bleeding profusely and non-responsive.
“He was making a God-awful, gurgling noise,” she recalls.
A woman nearby called for emergency help and took the Sequim man to a nearby hospital.
Later that day, Willy was airlifted to Sharp Memorial Hospital in San Diego.
He was later diagnosed with a brain injury called a subarachnoid hemorrhage, his wife said.
“I don’t want the message to be [that] Cabo is a horrible place: We’ve been down there several times and never felt unsafe,” Christy said.
“It’s not our purpose to scare people. This could happen anywhere.”
As of Wednesday, Willy was able to breathe and eat without a tube, to speak a bit and [with assistance] stand, Christy said.
“When he got here, he was unresponsive, so he’s come a long ways already,” she said.
“Every day he is progressing . . . Sometimes we can understand what’s he saying, sometimes not.”
But Willy will need some time to recover before he comes back home, Christy said.
To return to Washington state would require another risky and costly airlift, she said, so Willy is doing various forms of initial rehabilitation — physical, speech and occupational therapy — in San Diego.
“I’m not going to move him until he can fly on a commercial flight with me,” Christy said. “Brain injuries are on their own time schedule to heal.”
She said recovery could take two to four weeks.
“I need to be here to learn about his recovery,” she said. “We’ll see when he can go to a rehab facility. He’s not quite ready yet. He’s got a long journey ahead of him.”
Willy owned Rookard’s Hardware, which had been open for more than 30 years and in the same family since 1988, until he closed it in January 2006.
For the past two years, he has worked at the Dungeness River Lamb Farm in Sequim, where he helps make and deliver products made of USDA-certified organic fruits, vegetables and grains.
A longtime manager at the First Federal Sequim Avenue branch, Christy Rookard now works as First Federal’s retail training specialist.
Active in the community, she has volunteered or participated in some capacity with the Sequim Food Bank, Sequim Lavender Weekend, Dungeness River Festival, Downtown Sequim Christmas Lights, Sequim Boys & Girls Club, a facilities planning committee for the Sequim School District and Citizens for Sequim Schools. She is a 1988 Sequim High School graduate.
The Rookard family has seen tragedy upon tragedy: The family lost Greg Valaske, Christy’s brother, in a single-car crash June 19.
“I’m not even done mourning my brother,” she said.
It didn’t take long for friends and acquaintances to show their support for the longtime North Olympic Peninsula residents and family, including their daughters, Alexis and Bailey, Christy said.
“The support from the community has been amazing, with people that I’ve seen or who’ve donated,” she said.
“I’m so grateful and humbled by this.”
Michael Dashiell is the editor of the Sequim Gazette of the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which also is composed of other Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News and Forks Forum. Reach him at [email protected]